The case for kindness

We have written here and elsewhere about the human side of change and our experience that improvement can only flourish in an environment in which teams are supported and where good leadership-for-improvement is in place.

This case also seems to be supported by NHS Improvement in their national framework for improvement-skill-building and leadership development – Developing People, Improving Care – which describes the need for NHS organisations to demonstrate “…inclusive and compassionate leadership, so that all staff are listened to, understood and supported…”

We have spoken with a number of teams recently about the benefits of leading with kindness and so we were delighted when one member of ‘Team ASPH’,  Harriet Barker (Lead Nurse for Pain Services and Schwartz Round Facilitator), offered to write a blog on the subject.

Today is World Kindness Day so we are really pleased to share Harriet’s blog.  We hope you find this interesting and please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

kindness  – noun – The quality of being friendly, generous and considerate…

Since I began facilitating Schwartz Rounds and having completed a few other courses, I have become a ‘watcher of people’ and started to take a particular interest in how we interact with each other. We work in a high-stress environment with both people to care for and challenging goals to meet and it seems that sometimes, in order to achieve both, we can forget to be kind to each other.  I find myself asking why?

Is it because we think kindness doesn’t have a role in the work place?  Does it leave you open to being taken advantage of or being perceived to be a pushover?  I don’t believe so.

There is now plenty of evidence that kindness in the workplace has huge advantages.  Do a quick search for “kindness in the workplace” online and 1000s of results will come back extolling the virtues. There are even sites aimed at doing random acts of kindness.  The benefits are not just to the staff you work alongside but also to yourself. Job satisfaction goes up, worth is realised, and people will work harder in return.

Kindness goes hand in hand with compassion and patience and can itself be a huge strength. There is also evidence to demonstrate that kindness shown to staff results in kindness being passed onto patients, surely a goal worth achieving?

We expect children to be ‘kind’ to each other, but it seems that we sometimes accept blatant acts of unkindness in the work place.  These may manifest themselves in the tone we use, showing people up in front of others, showing favouritism or not helping people when they are struggling.

Of course, we can all get frustrated when we are trying to do our best and when we are working in a system that is stretched.  But rather than showing frustration, how about taking time to ensure they understand the goals of the team, invite them to submit ideas, involve them, listen and talk to them.


What about the person who hasn’t prepared for the meeting or training session? Is belittling them, shouting, embarrassing them or making them feel generally inadequate acceptable? I don’t think so.  Surely encouraging them, showing them how they can improve, enabling them to develop is a better way.  In everything be kind!

Too often I see the effect on the individual who has been treated in an unkind way and it can be devastating.  I have spoken to colleagues who tell me they have been left feeling worthless or inadequate by being treated in an unkind way.  I am often really moved by their accounts and encourage them to speak up or do so on their behalf (with permission), but acts of unkindness will often go on unreported and unquestioned.

I challenge everyone to think “Is this me?”,  “Have I done this to someone? Could I have unwittingly been unkind?”. Even I, looking back, must answer “Yes” but, in future, I will actively try to do the opposite.

At times I may be fuming on the inside, but I recognise that expressing this is counterproductive and better results come from praise, encouragement, saying thank you and acknowledging the contributions others make.

I have learned that more is gained by giving thoughtful constructive feedback aimed to build and not destroy, helping people when they are struggling, listening (as in really listening), and apologising on the occasions when I get it wrong. In other words, being kind.

It isn’t difficult, although it may take some practice if this isn’t your natural approach, but I can assure you, if you practice kindness in everything you do, not only will you will be happier but so will the people who you work with.

Maybe start with thanking colleagues for their contribution, buy them a coffee when you have the chance, acknowledge the part they play and encourage them to do more.

It’s contagious, so let’s start an epidemic!


Harriet Barker – @hnbarker

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