Kindness and Common Sense Often Go Hand-in-Hand

“There are few problems in life which kindness and common sense cannot make simple and manageable.” (Mary Burchell)

Attribution: Donna CameronI’ve been invited to speak at a conference later this month on the importance of kindness in business and the workplace. Working on my PowerPoint (of course, there must be a PowerPoint!) and putting some notes together this last weekend, I kept thinking how obvious it is: kindness is one of the keys to success in business—both individual success and organizational success. It seems like a no-brainer.

I’m old enough that I remember the days of “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap and a proliferation of business books about Winning Through Intimidation, Looking Out for Number One, and Nice Guys Finish Last. There really was a time when “profit at any price” was a prevailing business philosophy and when ideals like kindness, compassion, and even teamwork were viewed as soft, squishy, and oh-so-weak.

Managers believed—they were even taught—that they got the most effort from their employees through bullying, browbeating, and coercion. They overlooked the obvious—that those behaviors resulted in low morale, resentment, and high turnover.

In recent years, there’s been a whole lot of research on kindness. As I’ve noted in many earlier posts, there are health benefits, wealth benefits, relationship benefits, and, yes, many, many business benefits. Just as there were once many books on cutthroat business practices, there are now numerous books on compassion as a successful business strategy. Among them:








Unlike the others, this last one isn’t a recent book. It’s 20 years old, but still one of the best business books I know. Certain ideas are timeless, and you’ll find them in this and other books by Lance Secretan.


Here’s just a sampling of some of the recent research on kind and compassionate workplaces, found in these books and elsewhere:

Employees of companies described as having kind cultures:

  • Perform at 20% higher levels
  • Are 87% less likely to leave their jobs
  • Make fewer errors, thus saving their companies time and money
  • The companies themselves have 16% higher profitability
  • And if they’re publically traded companies, they have a 65% higher share price.

Research has also shown that compassionate business cultures consistently have:

  • better customer service
  • healthier employees and fewer absences
  • far less turnover and an easier time replacing employees when they do leave
  • higher productivity
  • greater employee engagement and commitment, and
  • an atmosphere where learning, collaboration and innovation are more likely to flourish.

In business, kindness is your competitive advantage.

It helps to have some common sense, too.

Which brings to mind United Airlines’ recent incident. I’m sure you’ve heard the story: Passengers were bumped from their seats and removed from a plane to make room for United crew members who needed to get to the flight’s destination. One bumped passenger, a doctor of Chinese descent, was forcibly removed when he refused the bump, telling airline personnel he had to get home to see patients. Security dragged him from his seat and pulled him by his arms and on his back down the aisle; his face was battered and bloodied in the process. What did United gain by this? Well, maybe they got their flight crew to their destination, but it cost them millions of dollars (one estimate I saw said easily a billion!) in bad press, lost passengers, and worldwide contempt. In China, where United is among several airlines competing for a share of the huge travel market, videos of the incident have gone viral at record rates, and Chinese travelers are vowing never to fly United. The monetary and P.R. costs to the company are incalculable.

Common sense and a compassionate mindset would have told United there were numerous other options: buying tickets for their crew on another airline, seeking a back-up crew, allowing the stranded crew’s flight to be delayed, approaching passengers without the confrontational, stormtrooper tactics…they could even have chartered a small plane. The relatively small cost of any of these options would have been preferable to the “nuclear option” they chose.

But if kindness and compassion—and, let’s face it, common sense—aren’t part of a company’s culture, these are the sorts of things that happen. I’m guessing other airlines, and other businesses in general, are using the United story as a teaching moment for their executives and employees. Let’s hope United has the good sense to be one of those companies.

If they’re interested, I can recommend some good books….

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)

23 thoughts on “Kindness and Common Sense Often Go Hand-in-Hand

  1. Hah! Thanks, Val. I suspect influencing Congress is way beyond my meager powers. It will need to be someone with powerful words and a large sledge-hammer. But that certainly is a body that could use a good dose of common sense!


  2. Excellent post, Donna! Your take on the United debacle is refreshing and spot on.
    I’m fascinated that any part of me is shocked that the ‘win at all costs’ and ‘kindness is weakness’ rhetoric was actually spoken out loud–I’ve actually heard it! The best way to think of the shock, I suppose, is to take it as the most positive sign that we have moved past this culture. And, sadly, I know we have not. It reminds me of latent racism and sexism. This kind of workplace fascism has, like the other isms, simply gone underground, and now exerts its toxic influence implicitly rather explicitly. We have come a long way, and we have a long way yet to go. So thanks for keeping us straight and on the path! Peace to you! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right, Cathy, that we’ve made some progress, but there’s still a long way to go. But at least we are having conversations … and some of them are even civil! It’s so good to see you. Thanks for your comment and good wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So excited that you’re speaking at a conference about your chosen fleld, kindness. I’m sure it will be an inspiring speech. Reminds me of when I worked as a newsfeed editor, managing a team of writers. Instead of reprimanding the weaker writers, I gave them positive feedback and encouragement, and found they responded well: they were more motivated and wrote much better pieces. Working night shift, they really needed encouragement!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Carol! Thanks so much—I’m really looking forward to talking about kindness with a group of businesspeople. You are so right that employees are motivated by praise, encouragement, and the confidence we show in them. We tend to rise to high expectations…and sink to low ones!


  4. Hi Donna!

    Sadly, there have been many incidents in the news lately of businesses behaving badly, from Fox News to Uber. Some seem related to an overly macho corporate culture and some result no doubt from a “win at all costs” mindset. No matter the source of the toxic mindset, it is established at the top and therefore it is up to the execs & senior managers to firmly establish and continually promote values like compassion, respect, and ethical behavior. For like the stats you shared indicate, companies that practice & promote “good” behavior perform significantly better. Hopefully the conference you’re presenting at will be very well attended!

    Good luck getting ready for the conference. I’ll be eager to hear how it went. In the meantime, thanks for the biz book recommendations and happy Easter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Nancy! You’re so right that cultural change in a company has to start at the top. And it has to be genuine. The consistent behaviors employees see and experience are a lot more telling that the words they may hear from their managers and supervisors. Saying “we have a compassionate workplace” and “kindness is one of our company’s values” is meaningless unless actions consistently support that. It’s easier said than done—especially if there’s a long tradition of indifference and focusing only on immediate gain. I’m glad so see that there is so much evidence now that in business “nice guys” are more successful. Still, it would have been lovely if people and businesses chose kindness simply because it’s the right thing to do. Ah, well…Pollyanna lives. Hope you and your family had a relaxing holiday weekend.


  5. I always appreciate your elevated view of life, Donna. (And I’m not referring to the POV advantage your height has over mine. Though there is that.) Even on another Cynical Monday, reading the morning headlines through these old, dark jaded glasses (forget the long-lost rose-colored lenses of my youth), hope does spring back — even as United’s stock did the day after it dropped in dramatic response to that reprehensible incident — because the meaning of human existence is far greater than the almighty dollar. Billionaires in business, in Congress and the White House may perpetuate the myth that money/power/success = the alpha and the omega of Being, (and that they are “winning”) but truth and kindness work at the root level of our shared humanity, in small, slow but steady, often unseen, ways. It may not generate splashy headlines or speedball tweets, but the daily practice of kindness — in government, in the boardroom, in business companies, in communities and in families — is as pragmatic as, well, as a Power Point presentation. 🙂 I’ve probably shared this quote with you (perhaps even here, on YOLK), one of my favorites from Theodore Roethke, that expresses this power so beautifully: “I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride.”

    Thanks yet again for lightening my lenses, Donna, and for your thoughtfulness. For creating this space for all of us to pause and contemplate, to share our thoughts and hopes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Kris, I love the Roethke quote! It has taken its rightful place on my wall of quotations. Yes, true kindness is really about “those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual,” as you say, working “at the root level of our shared humanity.” There will always be those for whom money and power are the only measurement they know of success and for whom kindness and compassion are only weaknesses to be exploited. Mostly, I just feel sorry for such people and for the barrenness at the core of their being, but lately I also worry that their dogged pursuit of more, more, more may destroy the planet. I guess I’m succumbing to Cynical Monday, too. Thanks, Kris, as always your words give me pause and wonder….


    • Thanks, Miriam. Maybe once your new boss has a bit more confidence in her new position she will be able to forge ahead with more compassion. Bosses probably emulate their own previous bosses (which perpetuates the negative workplace behaviors). That’s why I’m glad to see so much research on workplace kindness and all these great new books. Maybe bosses with outdated thinking will encounter these ideas and try something new. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.