Kindness Is a Real Thing

Mark L. Johnson / April 2022

More than two years has elapsed since the coronavirus pandemic began. Everyone has had to adapt to some tough business conditions. What have we learned?

We have learned that individual resilience can be cultivated. Individuals can rebound from adversity faster than they thought, especially with social and business networks backing them. How so?

Catastrophe Compassion
A week after Canada instituted COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020, researchers at Laval University and Wilfrid Laurier University surveyed more than 1,000 Canadians about their well-being. Initially, they suffered from extreme stress and fear. But after a few weeks, about half of the respondents demonstrated post-traumatic growth. They had started to help other people. The pandemic galvanized their family and friend networks. They shored up their frames of mind by building out social support systems.
    
“Social support and social interaction turned out to protect people,” says The New York Times, which reported on the survey.
    
In short, they displayed kindness.
    
Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki says kindness, goodwill and altruism often arise out of disaster. He calls the phenomenon “catastrophe compassion.”
    
“Catastrophe compassion presents people with a view of [themselves] that might surprise us—driven by ‘otherishness’ rather than by selfishness during crucially important moments,” says Zaki in a recent Trends in Cognitive Sciences paper.
    
In challenging times, people band together when they can do some good. In fact, researchers found that people were more willing to wear masks and practice social distancing when doing so was framed as a way of helping others.
    
This isn’t new. “Numerous studies indicate social support is essential for maintaining physical and psychological health,” said the paper, “Social Support and Resilience to Stress,” published 15 years ago in Psychiatry.
    
Still, it’s good to know that your employees have this tendency to pull together as a team to overcome problems.

Born a Pessimist? Change
Researchers have also found during the pandemic that people will go beyond simple acts of kindness, altruism and generosity. Some will try to change their personalities and succeed. Some will learn to look at the bright side of things.
    
“There is neuroscience research indicating that even if you were born a pessimist, you can become an optimist,” says George Everly Jr., a psychologist and public health expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
    
“The pandemic was so disruptive, some people used that disruption as a way to do a fresh start,” says Simon Coulombe, an industrial relations and psychology researcher at Laval University in Quebec, one of the researchers who did the survey mentioned at the outset.
    
So, your people have some built-in resilience. And if they see a way to work together, they will try to develop even more resilience.

Nurture Resilient Employees
How can you nurture more kindness, positivity and mental toughness among your people? Here are three ideas.
    
Give your employees time to chill. Organize breaks during the day to allow for some work decompression, some time for mindful mediation. Dr. Steven Southwick, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine, says that mindful mediation and breathing exercises—taking slow, deliberate, deep breaths and extended exhalations—can “activate brain regions responsible for attention, emotions and self-awareness.”
    
Breathing exercises and mindful cooldowns help break the cycle of employee’s drifting into worry over their work and instead to conjure up positive, altruistic thinking.
    
Create a company culture that acknowledges successes and failures equally. Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, an assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School School of Management at Northwestern University, suggests that business leaders should create cultures where the actual rate of success and failure is known to every employee.
    
“This normalizes failure in an organization, creating an environment where a certain rate of failure for new products and initiatives is totally acceptable,” Eskreis-Winkler says in Kellogg Insight. “This knowledge alone makes people less upset by personal failure, and as a result, more likely to learn from it.”
    
Train managers to be thoughtful. Give employees a genuine listening ear. Avoid being judgmental and shaming people to prompt improvement, which doesn’t work. Instead, remember that people want to rally together to surmount challenges.
    
So then, based on resilience research, just be supportive of your people. Get out of the way. And don’t overthink what to do. They will rise to the task and grow.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.