The Kindest Possible Interpretation – Kindness in the Workplace

The business world usually gets described as competitive, cutthroat, or aggressive. You’re obliged to be a “growth hacker” who “contributes to the bottom line” and is considered “higher-performing than their peers” at the annual review. I had been in the high-stress corporate world at Microsoft where stack-ranking ruled twice a year.

Employees almost universally breathed a sigh of relief when Microsoft announced in 2013 that they were doing away with stack rankings. I was all for a more collaborative workplace with team efforts and common goals. The only thing they got rid of in my department was the term “stack ranking.” Twice a year, you were still compared to your peers. Promotions, raises, and bonuses were still individually-assigned based on how you performed compared to others in your level-band.

Being kind is the most important thing I’ve ever been taught. That’s what my parents always told me – more important than ambition or success is being kind to people. The cornerstone of my life. What I aspire to is to be kind. – Rafe Spall

I chose to leave this high-stress world and take a lower-paying but much more satisfying job elsewhere.

I’m now a digital analyst at the hotel web design company. We’ve a very different, very collaborative approach. At my new workplace, we try to have the worldview of “The Kindest Possible Interpretation” of the motives behind our coworkers’ and clients’ actions. This philosophical approach is absolutely necessary for our office as a distributed workplace (we all work from home/remote offices). So much of our interactions occur via email, in online chat, or over Skype.

As humans, we’re natural storytellers and often project reasons on why something did/did not happen. That can be great if you’re reading a novel or watching a film, but it can also be destructive.

Suppose yesterday, Susan was supposed to send you the pictures you need for the website you’re creating? What happened? What do you tell yourself? What are your embedded assumptions? See how this can spiral into negativity.

Assumption 1: Susan’s lazy and didn’t get around to it

“Susan, you didn’t give me the pictures I need. I’m cc’ing our manager so she can know that you’re the reason why my manuscript won’t be done on time. – Matt”

This is a blame-game, with an aggressive attitude.

Assumption 2: Susan’s forgotten and you’re a martyr

“Susan, you didn’t get me the pictures I need. Never mind. I’m pulling some from our archives. – Theresa”

If you’re part of a team, be part of a team. Contribute, and rely on others to support you. Trying to do everything yourself is very stressful.

Assumption 3: Susan’s competent

The kindest, and least-stress-inducing assumption you can make is that Susan sent them, but something happened and the photos didn’t get to you.

“Susan, I am in the final stages of creating the website which needs to launch today. I’m sure you sent them along yesterday, but they didn’t get to me. Perhaps an email issue with the size. I’m worried about meeting our deadline for launch. Would you be kind enough to drop them in the shared drive and let me know when they’re there? – Thanks, Gwen”

It’s easy to see which is the kindest of interpretations. And whatever back story you believe impacts how you deal with her.

Suppose that Assumption 3 is correct – Susan’s a competent member of your team and sent the photos you need. How destructive to her are the first two responses? How likely is she to continue to be a supportive teammate?

“The Kindest Possible Interpretation” reduces your stress and unhappiness and it also reduces the stress of those you touch. And if a sad fact in your life is that this approach won’t work, rethink what you’re doing and make a change.

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GwenAuthor: Gwendolyn Kestrel
Gwen loves travel, good food, and live theatre. She lives in Kent, WA with her husband, Andy, two cats, and four chickens. By day, she’s a Digital Analyst focused on hotel website design for hotelmarketingWorks.



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