Kindness has the power and the potential to impact all our relationships by Shaunti Feldhahn
Kindness has the power and the potential to impact all our relationships –and our leadership of others — for the better. The problem is: we already think we are kind! Kindness matters to us all, and yet we often don’t realize we’re failing badly. Maybe we regularly get exasperated with our kids or have fallen into a habit of sarcasm about a colleague. It is all too easy to completely miss our negativity or unkindness when something goes wrong in our world, or we have a challenging relationship with someone. The good news is that it is much simpler than we ever realized to build a completely different habit of true kindness – and great relationships with everyone as a result.
This excerpt from my book The Kindness Challenge is based on one woman’s life-changing awareness of this fact. She is now one of the most influential and respected executives in her entire industry, and credits her leadership turning point to this awareness of the need for kindness.
Because this awareness does not always come naturally, we have added information about the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, which is a research-tested boot camp for building habitual kindness in your life.
A One-Two Punch
Why does such a simple tool, being kind, bring such dramatic results to restore, build, or improve any relationship we care about? Because it improves how we feel about another person, and it ultimately makes us want to be kind.
After all, think about it: Let’s say you are irritated with someone (your boss, husband, wife, mother-in-law, teenager). If you tell that person you’re irritated and then you tell someone else you’re irritated, are you going to be more or less irritated? The answer is obvious. And yet, what if you’re irritated but you don’t talk about it? What if instead you set out every day to be kind to them and about them—to find, for example, something positive or praiseworthy about that person—and then you tell them and tell someone else? Are you going to be more or less irritated? Also obvious!
When one of my corporate clients, Nadia, heard what this book was about, she told me of her experience years ago working in a new city with a harsh boss, and how she regularly wanted to vent with another colleague who also bore the brunt of their boss’s poor management style. But the colleague would have none of it.
“If you are negative,” she said to Nadia, “does it really change anything in the end?”
“Well, it sure feels good to vent all the frustrations,” Nadia responded. “But no, I guess it doesn’t really change anything.”
“You’re wrong.” Her colleague leaned in. “It does change something. It changes you.”
Nadia was so struck by that, she began to watch and emulate her colleague. This woman was very successful in business, but Nadia saw more than that. She saw graciousness in the face of harshness. Generosity in the face of stinginess. Patience when their boss was exasperated. She saw someone she wanted to be.
Practicing kindness made Nadia want to be kind.
As I listened to the qualities of Nadia’s colleague, I found myself wishing I myself was so much more like that. In fact, the description reminded me of Someone else. I don’t know whether Nadia or her colleague embrace a Christian faith, but as I listened I couldn’t help but think, This sounds like the way the Bible describes Jesus. (I should mention that although my research is scientifically rigorous and applies to readers across all demographics, including race, age, and religion, I also do quite a bit of work in the church community. Many of my books bring in faith-based applications—including this one, since kindness is famously central to the teachings of Jesus.)
In a well-known sermon recounted in the gospel of Luke, Jesus called out, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.… Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”3
And the research shows that as we similarly show that kindness—even when it is undeserved—something changes. Not necessarily in the other person, not yet, but in us….
The 30-Day Kindness Challenge
If kindness is really a power-packed means of transforming relationships, how can we put it to work? The Kindness Challenge book introduces a unique tool to help you learn and apply true kindness in your life. The 30-Day Kindness Challenge is designed to build a sustainable desire for, and habit in, each of three key aspects of kindness: avoiding negativity, finding and praising the positive, and performing kind actions that matter to someone else. You can find more (and get free reminder/coaching emails) at jointhekindnesschallenge.com, but here’s how it works:
Pick someone with whom you want or need a better relationship. And for the next thirty days do the following:
1. Say nothing negative about your person, either to them or about them to someone else. (If negative feedback is unavoidable—such as when you as a boss, teacher, coach, or parent need to address a mistake—be constructive and encouraging without a negative tone.)
2. Every day, find one positive thing that you can sincerely praise or affirm about your person and tell them, and tell someone else.
3. Every day, do a small act of kindness or generosity for your person.
That’s it. So simple. But the three aspects of kindness are like three chemical elements that, when they come together, react and build something different: something remarkably beautiful, powerful, and, above all, transformative.
In our research, no matter who did the Challenge or on whom they were focused—a romantic partner, colleague, stepparent, child—as long as participants practiced those three habits, 89 percent saw improvement in their relationships. The graph below shows results for those who did the Challenge for a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
As you walk through the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, you’ll discover specific patterns to look for that might be sabotaging your relationships without your even realizing it. And you’ll learn simple adjustments that will eliminate the bad patterns and boost the good ones. Most of us think we’re pretty good at figuring out how we’re doing at relationships, and yet kindness blindness may be tripping us up. I’ve spent quite a few years on the research to help us be able to identify our individual blind spots (so we can fix them) and opportunities (so we can seize them).
You can start to identify those in your own life via the “What is Your Kindness Quotient?” assessment at jointhekindnesschallenge.com.
This article was extracted from the premier issue of Thrive Magazine (Spring 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Thrive Magazine by visiting us here.
Reprinted from THE KINDNESS CHALLENGE: THIRTY DAYS TO IMPROVE ANy RELATIONSHIP Copyright © 2016 by Shaunti Feldhahn. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.