Okay — this is going to sound weird. But something has really been bugging me of late about all these articles on kindness in the workplace. What’s bothering me is that seem to skip right over the 101 basics and go to 401 and 501 levels — which is an atrocity in my mind, because if you never get the basics right, everything else falls apart.
I couldn’t quite fully articulate it until another one of my friends actually posted this article about Brene Brown recently — which I fully agree with, and it finally clicked for me on what is missing in the kindness literature: there’s a certain type of basic kindness missing in the workplace, which I actually think characters like Darth Vader knew even better when it came to being a leader vs. the cryptic Yoda…read on to check and see which basic variety I argue is missing.
First, I’ll dispense with the 400 and 500 levels of ‘seeming’ kindness prescribed in the workplace literature these days, (which, spoiler alert: really in the end aren’t that kind).
It’s the variety of:
- People (mainly men) telling me (as a woman) to smile at work more and joke around (and yes, as a woman I get this. A. Lot.)
- Smiling and being happy, (but never answering anyone’s actual questions or requests.) The seemingly happy and carefree at work seems to be highly valued (but no one ever asks the questions if any of the carefree are actually getting any work done).
- Or to laugh at work. (I already do, because sometimes, it’s either laugh or cry, honestly. Who doesn’t have days like this at work?)
- It’s all the literature telling you to awkwardly hang out at the water cooler and asking how your co-workers’ weekends were (hint: small talk for the introverts is painful and honestly — does anyone really care? Seriously! Get back to work!)
This is all a big fat Fake Fendi of kindness. (SATC reference…sorry!)
If you REALLY want to be kind at work and cover the basics — which I argue that Darth Vader totally had hands down vs. Yoda — it’s this:
- Set or get clear expectations as a leader or a team member. If you don’t know when you’re asked as a leader what the expectations are, say you don’t know, but gather and reach consensus on those clear expectations by everyone in the room BEFORE moving on to the glittery next thing. There was no guessing with Darth Vader — he wanted to take over the Empire. Half the time, no one knew what Yoda was getting at!?!
- Hold people accountable — Good or bad, people reporting to DV knew where they stood. With Yoda — who knew? If you really want to be a kind leader — hold your team accountable. If you want to be a kind teammate — hold yourself and your teammates accountable. Otherwise, the rest of the team who IS carrying their load will start to resent your lack of leadership by letting yourself and/or others slide continuously. That is a hallmark sign of terrible leadership and terrible work.
- Set timelines and deadlines — nothing worse than a wishy-washy ongoing nebulous “are we or aren’t we” project, meeting or initiative. Darth had a very clear death star build expectation. Yoda was always busy rearranging his subjects and verbs in sentences…we never really knew where Yoda was heading. Set timelines and deadlines. Nebulousness is a form of cruelty — and borderline gas-lighting behavior can set it in the workplace — where people start bickering against the expectations that were never written down nor accounted for in a project or process and people have to ‘guess’ when the boss wants something done and who by. (The worst.)
- Write agreements down — If you have meetings, have an agenda and minutes. If you end a meeting, discuss a summary of the deliverables in the last 5 minutes. Be crystal clear on who is doing what when and you won’t stress out the team, or burn them out. Nothing is worse than not knowing what you’re accountable for, to and by when.
- Get the deathstar on the table — Don’t skirt around tough issues. Get the moose or the deathstar on the table. The kindest thing about Vader was that he never really avoided tough conversations. Clear the air before it festers into a hidden, back-stabbing passive aggressive mess!
So, my friends, if you really want to kill with kindness at work — I’m about to say it: be more like Darth Vader. Have uncomfortable conversations if you need to in order to get clear on something. Understand who is responsible for what and when. If you get clear, hold people accountable and write stuff down — all the 400 and 500 level stuff will naturally come over time because people won’t be all stressed out trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. Making people stress and guess is CRUEL — not kind.
Otherwise, confused, you will be. And that will lead to the dark side…
Erin L. Albert grew up during the Star Wars era. Opinions here are her own unless otherwise noted.