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Conditional Kindness – Are we kind to only those we like?

Conditional Kindness - Are we kind to only those we like?

Here’s a question, are you kind to everyone in your workplace? 

If you’re unclear about what kindness looks like, this definition is one I’m particularly fond of. 

Kindness is a type of behavior marked by acts of generosity, consideration, or concern for others, without expecting praise or reward.”

The truth is, I don’t think we’re all as kind as we claim to be. And I’m being honest. Kindness is not just a practice but also a mindset. 

Even on our crappiest days, when the world feels like it’s against us, we still need to practice kindness. 

Kindness is also a belief. A belief that everyone is deserving of kindness, no matter their background, their race, ethnicity or sexuality. No matter even, the acts of good or bad they may have done. 

Yet in many workplaces I’m still seeing what I call, ‘“conditional kindness”, whereby someone is only deserving of kindness if they are deemed to be ‘a good worker’ or of value to the company.

First-hand experience...

I first experienced this myself in a previous role, way before I entered the arena of culture. But at the time I didn’t have the knowledge or language to understand what it was. I just couldn’t put my finger on what I was experiencing and seeing with my own eyes. 

During my early career I experienced a traumatic personal event. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of it here because it’s an essay in itself. But to give some context, a close relative had been harmed severely and due to the incident my home was put under police watch. Ie. we had police officers stationed outside of our house for a week to keep our family safe. 

Of course, due to the severity of the event I had to let my employer know. 

When I told them of the situation they had nothing but kindness and concern for myself and my family, and wanted to help in any way they could. Even offering paid leave if I felt it was needed. 

At the time, work was a sanctuary from the madness that was going on at home, so I continued to work full-time through the event, but knew that if I needed it, I could take a break. 

Their kindness was an incredible support, and it eased my mind that while life was messy at home, work was there if I needed them. 

However, the same company treated a fellow employee very differently when they too were going through a traumatic life event. 

No paid leave was offered, and instead, from the conversations of the employee taking leave it was treated as a major inconvenience to the company. As if this person had somehow ‘brought it upon themselves’. 

This was when I first encountered conditional kindness. That for some people, there is a belief that kindness should only be given to those who are in some way deemed worthy of kindness. 

I was shocked that how I had been treated was so different to that of a colleague. 

We both had traumatic life experiences, but for some reason, I was deemed more worthy of kindness and consideration than my peer. 

Painful to realise, and deeply uncomfortable to live. Yet, this is still an increasing occurrence in many company cultures. While some are treated with support and kindness, others are treated like an inconvenience. 

A misguided belief about kindness….

We may not realise it, but there are sometimes conditions to our kindness. In our minds people have to meet a certain criteria before we deem them ‘worthy’ of our kindness. 

For people this may be a boundary for self-care. Someone in your life has hurt you which means you need to cut ties or diminish the relationship.

But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about when a person has done nothing wrong to harm you, but due to your unconscious bias you believe they are unworthy of your kindness. 

For example, a homeless person on the street. Do they deserve your kindness? Or those telesales people trying to upsell you? Do they deserve your kindness? 

The same belief bleeds into our workplaces. Perhaps to be worthy of kindness and consideration people have to hold a certain value to the company, hold a degree or particular qualification, have a role or title that we respect. 

Think about it this way. Who do you practice kindness with the most at work? Why is this? 

In the workplace we also seem to have this misguided belief that if we are kind to people we are showing weakness, or will get ‘taken advantage of’. It’s a common story I hear about why so many leaders lean towards fear-based management rather than empathetic leadership. 

Let’s put in this way. How do you feel when you are unkind to someone at work? 

Do you feel better about yourself? Or do you feel that little bit worse? 

Kind even when it's hard ….

Kindness goes a long way. I’m a big fan of the Maya Angelou quote that says; 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

I never forget people who are kind. It’s a trait I most admire in people, and it’s something I always look for when I meet new people. I’m lucky enough to have lots of kind people in my life. 

My younger brother consistently shows kindness to so many strangers. I remember being in the car with him on a sunny afternoon on our way to the beach and a woman had broken down in the road. No-one had stopped to help her as people were too busy trying to get to the beach. But my brother, being the kind soul he is, pulled up and helped her move her car into the layby and checked if she was ok. That’s kindness. 

My partner on a recent trip to London noticed how a man in a disability scooter couldn’t enter a coffee shop because it had no ramp, so offered to help him get assistance and ensure he could be served. 

I know these are all situations from life, but every day at work we can also make the choice to be kind. To offer help when we see someone struggling, to listen when someone is upset or hurting. 

So many people want a magic wand to fix their culture post covid, but I think what we’re lacking is our ability to remember that it is our human qualities that make for the most positive cultures. And it all starts with kindness. 

See people for the people they are and the human struggles they are going through, rather than the labels you put upon them. 


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.