Being Kind is Like Magic

How much better would your day be if other people just wanted to do all kinds of nice things for you? If Becky up at the front desk fast tracked your meeting requests? If your employees would work just a little bit harder to meet that deadline? If that real piece of garbage on your favorite online forum could refrain from starting a flame war for just one day? Well I have good news! I have some magic to help you out.

Having a good, positive tone to your communication (especially your writing, such as I previously wrote about here) is a great start to successfully convincing others that you’re super awesome, but you can also do a few additional and relatively simple things to really get them moving in your direction. While the situations below are described as if they’re all occurring in real time, the principles are the same whether you’re communicating in person or through text.

The first really simple thing I’d suggest is thanking someone, even if they’re just doing their job.When Becky schedules that meeting, or Tiffany from IT comes by to fix the printer, thank them for their efforts. It doesn’t need to be anything dramatic, just a simple “Thanks for the help!” It’s a small thing, but making someone feel appreciated (because we do honestly appreciate the efforts of others) goes a long way. You have a fixed printer and Tiffany feels appreciated (which she’ll remember when prioritizing tickets in the future). Everyone wins!

Next, let’s say you’re brainstorming with your team at the office. One of your teammates throws out an idea. It was sorta close, but you throw out another similar idea that’s clearly better. Give some or all of the credit to the other person by saying something like “Yeah, that’s a good idea“ and then go on to explain your way more awesome idea. Everyone will remember that you had the idea, and going out of your way to provide credit to someone else shows that you acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of the team around you. Everyone wins!

So, you just shared your great idea. You look around the room for any further ideas but none come. At this point, it’s almost certain that someone, maybe a new person, hasn’t spoken much, or at all. Ask that person, or persons, what they think. It’s quite likely that people don’t normally solicit their opinion, and it’ll definitely make them remember you positively. In addition, it’s also super possible that they’ll throw out something you didn’t think of. Everyone wins!

Now let’s say things went the other way. Someone else threw out an idea and it sucked a little bit. Don’t immediately say “no, that won’t work”. If you’re going to throw out a “that’s wrong”, you need to explain why, and you need to provide an alternative. Being known as the nay-sayer is definitely not a flattering way to be remembered.

In addition, when you’re pointing out flaws in someone else’s plan, it’s often good to do so using the Socratic method. That is to say, ask questions and lead them to the part of the plan that you perceive as lacking. It gives them the opportunity to notice their mistake themselves (and if it’s not a mistake, you won’t look nearly as silly). It not only won’t make them feel as crappy, it’ll also allow them to save face. The mistake will be caught, people will notice that you pointed out the mistake, and they’ll also notice that you weren’t a huge jerk about it. Everyone wins!

My next suggestion is a bit more difficult (I definitely have difficulty with it, at least). Accept criticism gracefully and without excuses. No one wants to hear excuses, but we all want to give them. To help clear your name (because we all want to have the clearest of names), you can instead do something to indicate where your misunderstanding came from. This generally doesn’t come across terribly negatively, and it forces you to think critically about why you made the mistake in the first place.

For example, let’s say you’re writing some computer code for a college course. Someone points out a flaw in the code that you wrote, which was based off code written by one of the other people in the group. Instead of saying “well Steve’s the idgit who wrote the code I based it on!” say something like “That makes sense. I notice we do this task in the same way in this other code too. Should we change that code as well?”. People will know why the mistake happened, and you won’t look like you’re trying to dodge responsibility (and that jack-hole Steve gets a little egg on his face too; you suck, Steve). Everyone wins (except Steve, but who cares)!

So, you’re doing all the things above, and now you really want to drive home that you appreciate others, you’re a team player, and you’re just the nicest person. The last thing I’ll suggest to you today is to show an interest in other’s lives. It doesn’t have to be much, and should be something you know they're comfortable with talking about. Maybe you just got back from spring break and you ask your friends what they did. Maybe Alex from maintenance just came back from maternity leave and you ask him how parenthood is treating him. You can do any number of little things to indicate that you acknowledge others as individuals, and not just extras in the movie that is your life. The other person feels acknowledged, and you look like you care (which you do). Everyone wins!

I hope you found some use in my explanation of why being kind is like magic, and I’ll see you next time.