Podcasts

How Focusing on the Science of Kindness Builds Better Businesses

Strong relationships with employees, suppliers, and stakeholders make good business sense. By incorporating the science of kindness into your company’s culture, Alan Hecht believes you’ll not only feel better about yourself, but your company will benefit as well.

Learn about what the science of kindness is and how to use kindness to strengthen relationships with your employees, suppliers, and customers.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Greg: Hi, I’m Greg Corombos. Our guest this week is Allen Hecht. He is the founder of Kindness Hall, and an adjunct professor at Touro Law Center in New York. He is also a frequent speaker on the science of kindness. Today we will be examining that science, and how it can be applied very effectively to relationships between businesses and customers, employers and employees, and even a business and its suppliers and vendors. And Allen, thanks very much for being with us.

Allen: Thanks very much for having me.

Greg: Well before we apply the science of kindness, let’s talk about what it is. How do you define it, how do you study it, and how did you get so involved in it?

Allen: To make a long story short, I have a lot of teaching experience. As you said, I’m an adjunct professor at a law school, and I’ve also been teaching at other places—various civil organizations, schools, libraries—basically anybody who will listen to me. And I’m a past president at my synagogue. I became very frustrated with the apathy, and so I got into organizational change and how to motivate people. And then it branched into kindness because of my dealings with the synagogue and because I was the kindness coordinator. I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve been doing this presentation—this course—for a couple years now. Everywhere I do it, the reaction is great. People are interested in it; they want to hear more about it. It’s interesting because people don’t know much about the science, the strategies, and how we can improve our kindness. When we’re done, I’ve gotten some nice feedback. We’ve tried to get some groups together. I have a program coming up at the end of September where we’re going to be doing it throughout the fall and the winter. There the idea is to hopefully get a community together to get a program together to help their community.

With regard to the science of kindness, there’s nothing earth shattering here. There’s a lot going on in our brain, a lot going on in the environment, and it places a lot of pressure on us. It’s these types of things—I think—that can keep us from stepping out and helping one another. Basically, my entire gist is if we could just start holding the door for each other, we really can change the world.

Greg: So Allen, is there a lot of data involved in this science? Or is more of studying the human brain and how it responds to kindness or a lack of kindness.

Allen: There is a lot of data is—believe it or not—it goes back to the scientific studies of the social science era, the 1960s, the classics Milgram and Asch, [?]. Those studies have been replicated, and basically what it shows is that there are various pressures on us. For example, Milgram studied obedience to authority. Asch studied conformity. So when you’ve got these types of pressures—and it’s human nature—well, you’re not about to stand up in a crowded train and give your seat to an old lady because if nobody else is doing it, there’s pressure on you to not do it. What we get into in the Kindness Hall, is that we examine those things going on in the environment, and then we talk about strategies. Again, they’re simple—nothing earth shattering—strategies to get around them. What it comes down to is what I call mindness. It’s having that awareness of things going on around you. There are people interacting with you, and instead of focusing—just keeping our heads straight forward and focusing on what we’re doing—we just have to take a moment and stop and relax and take a look and see that there are people around us. Once we do that, it’s a matter of developing a habit.

Greg: Let’s talk about how this applies to the business world now, and there are some obvious applications here because, generally, kindness elicits a fairly kind response. So if you’re nicer to your employees, nicer to your customers, you’ll most likely get a more favorable response. But let’s talk about it more in general. How much has this been applied to business, and what do we know about the results so far?

Allen: Well, I don’t think there’s anything new about it. For example, in the classes I teach we go back to the Grateful Dead. Their model was kindness, and there have been books and articles on the Grateful Dead, that they had a business model that was way ahead of their time. Since the band was based on kindness—and their business model incorporated a lot of the things that the authors are talking about today.

What I do think is new, is that there has been a recent focus—a rash of books and studies on kindness and business. Just to give you a couple of examples, there’s Give and Take by Adam Grant, Conscious Capitalism in 2014, and even this year in 2017 Monica Worline and Jane Dutton wrote Awakening Compassion at the Workplace. The themes are pretty basic. It goes back to what I call the mindness, of being aware of your employees, of being aware of your customers, being aware of your stakeholders—people you may be taking for granted, and who you’re not concentrating on. What the research and the literature are showing is that kindness is certainly profitable, and as you said, it makes for a good workplace, and kindness is good for the individual employee.

And just to pick up on those three themes, the obvious ones are it’s good for the customers. The studies have shown that the vast majority of customers—if they’re not happy with you, they don’t tell you. But they will tell their family, they will tell their friends, they will tell their acquaintances. And I think we’ve all had that experience. And the figures are, that they won’t just tell one person, they’ll tell multiple people. So now you’re at risk of losing multiple customers, and it has a ripple effect. So once that happens, it’s very hard to recover from that.

But there are other people involve. For example, in Conscious Capitalism Rajendra Sisodia and John Mackey talk about your stakeholders. And it’s not just the traditional stakeholders. For example it could be another company that gives you equipment. Could be your landlord. Could be your utility. You’ve got to bring these people into your business and treat them well, and treat them fairly. You want to be careful. Not everything is a negotiation, not everything is I’m going to get one up on you. In Conscious Capitalism, they give a great example of, maybe what they’ve done is bought equipment for suppliers who will use the equipment to manufacture goods for them. And that’s something that I think we normally wouldn’t think of.

Also, two other examples. You want to take care of your suppliers during slow times. You want to make sure you pay them timely and pay them early. They’ll remember these things, and now you’ve started a partnership that’s good for everybody, becomes a win-win. With regard to employees, that’s really the obvious one. You want to keep them engaged. That is the emphasis. Because what happens if they’re not engaged? Well, why do people commit fraud and [have] ethical lapses? It’s not because they want to do these things, it’s because they’re disengaged, and they start to rationalize in their mind. This is one of the three dangerous mental switches David Gebler talks about in his book The 3 Power Values. Disengagement is when employees start to say, Well, nobody cares. Why should I care? And so I’ll do what’s easy and cut corners. And that’s going to lead to problems. So you do want to make sure you have a good workplace. You pay attention to your employees, and we’ll get into a little bit later with specifics what you can do.

And finally, for the individuals, Adam Grant’s work, very interesting. In a book called Give and Take, he identifies three people of people in the workplace: the takers, the matchers, and the givers. The takers are those who take, and they deal with people in an unfair way; they’re taking and not giving. The conventional wisdom is that these are the people who rise to the executive ranks. There are the matchers, people who match tit for tat. I’ll give you something, you give me something. And then there are the givers, people who are the real team players. They go out of their way for everyone else. And generally, when we talk about this in my class, most people think it’s the takers at the top, the matchers at the middle, and the givers at the bottom. And Grant found it interesting that it was actually the givers at the top and the bottom, and the takers and the matchers fall into the middle. And that’s because over time, givers build up credit with their colleagues, and they are no longer in competition, they are no longer seen as people taking advantage, but that they’re the ultimate team player. The interesting thing is that Grant says in the beginning, you’ve got to be careful if you’re giving too much, then you’re not going to be paying attention to yourself, and you can make mistakes and not take care of your end and not do well in business.

You’ve got to be careful to these things; you’ve got to pay attention. And let me qualify this. These are not rules across the board. I will tell you that I’ve seen companies where...I don’t think this applies. I’ve had colleagues who’ve said to me, this doesn’t apply. I think a lot of it depends on the company. You’ve got to have leadership and a mission statement and a culture that’s really interested in this kind of thing, and is willing to make change, and is willing to pursue it.

Greg: We’re talking to Allen Hecht, founder of Kindness Hall, adjunct professor at Touro Law Center in New York. Just a minute or two left in our conversation, Allen, so let’s move quickly to our quick tips for some of these examples of kindness, especially in these critical relationships—employer and employee, business and customer, and so forth. What are some of the critical tools to keep in mind, and how much of a difference does it make, I guess I’m thinking here, whether you look at a customer or whether you look at an employee as someone I value and therefore I want to keep them happy? Or do you genuinely just want to be kind to them?

Allen: Well I think it’s a combination of both. You need to generally want to be kind to people to have that mindset, and that will make you be kind to people. Because look, if you’re not sincere, it’s simply not going to work. Just to be quick, really what it’s all about—and I find in my classes that this is really the most hardest thing for most people—is what I call putting yourself out there. Start an organization, start a kindness club.

Leadership is very important. When I was president of the synagogue, I used to spend all my time walking around shaking hands. Leaders have got to do that. I’ve seen companies, and I’ve worked on assessments where we’ve made findings and recommendations where we’ve said to the leadership, you’ve got to get out into the field. Put on your work clothes, get down to the field, have lunch with the workers. Find out about them, learn about them, get to know them. Tony Shay in his book on Zappos [Delivering Happiness] back in 2010, gives the greatest example, I love this one. He says at Zappos...in most companies, when you log onto your computer, you put in your name and your password. At Zappos, you also have to input...a picture comes up of a colleague you don’t know, and you have to input, take a guess of their name. And after you put in their name, their biography comes up. What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get people to learn about each other.

So what it comes down to is this human-to-human contact, putting yourself out there. It’s great for businesses to put themselves out in the community. It’s great for employees to put themselves out there. Don’t be afraid to start something. Do presentations. Start a volunteer organization. I’ve done that at my place of business, and I was named volunteer of the year one year. I was flown to London; we had a great trip. It was very nice of the company. So there are plenty of things you can do. It’s a matter of being mindful, and not focusing too much on your own specifics, taking in that there’s a world around you, and having the confidence to put yourself out there.

If it’s very difficult, you take small steps. You don’t do everything all at once. So maybe, join an organization and just be a member. Then maybe move up the ranks slowly. If you’re a business, start slowly with your customers. Create an ambassador program, and then move on to suppliers. Again, small steps so things can work consistently, but you want to keep it going. Eventually those kindness muscles and that engagement will get stronger and stronger.

Greg: Allen, fantastic advice. And let’s hope more and more businesses apply that, to not only make dealing with various businesses necessary but a pleasure. Thank you, sir, very much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.

Allen: Thanks very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Greg: Allen Hecht is the founder of Kindness Hall. He is an adjunct professor at Touro Law Center in New York. He is a frequent speaker on the science of kindness. If you want to get in touch with Allen and get more advice from him, kindhall613@gmail.com is his email address.

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