It’s the little things that matter. Critical moments are touch points where the slightest effort can add value. I’ve been giving this much thought and have had several conversations. A friend shared a sermon by Rabbi Angela Buchdahl that drove the point home. She talks about the racism she experienced as the first Asian American female rabbi in the US. Woven in with her well-thought-out points are some ideas I’ve gathered from other professionals on how to treat others, and it’s not just because it’s nice.
Here are a few thoughts.
- Choose kindness in every moment because each touch point has value.
- We need to recognize that the only thing that matters is time – we have one life to live and how we live it, personally and professionally, are the most critical choices we make.
- Visually, as a reminder, I had Maitri in the roots of a lotus tattooed on the back of my neck; it reminds me to practice kindness to myself and others.
I’m suggesting that we need to pause, be more intentional, and notice the small things. Acts of random kindness are not ordinary moments; it’s better to catch them being good than to focus on the negative.
(Hang onto these thoughts for later, and let’s start with some other ideas and the tools to help you execute them!)
How do we want to be treated?
I had lunch with a leader I coached out of a toxic environment and is now in a much healthier one. It is lovely to see my client’s face relax and tension receding from around their shoulders; now, their actual abilities are seen and recognized. As a senior-level capture leader, this talented professional meets many people, potential partners, and external clients, and they are responsible for hiring staff internally. She experiences critical moments where the slightest effort can add value each day. We shared our beliefs about the rules for how to treat people in all situations. We agreed that taking a moment to do the little things often impacts the people we encounter.
For example, consciously being compassionate and respecting a candidate through the interview process or sending a client in a direction that meets their needs better are little things that can have a significant ROI. I coach candidates to send a genuine Thank You note because the gesture adds value to the interview and insights into the person. I also like the idea of answering a rejection with a Thank You! It lets a company know that you are mature and plan to leave the door open for a conversation down the road.
Touch Point: Simple common courtesy can go a long way toward building long-lasting and sincere relationships.
These positive behaviors are “a deposit into a social capital account.” When we do kind things for others, it fills up our capital account, so when it’s low, we can reach out to others for support. For this reason, unlike my midwestern husband, I have no problem asking for help. I offer my service without prompting and follow the golden rule: nurture your networks to build strong, trusting relationships. You have to start somewhere.
Reflect: How can we regain value in our communities, lives, and careers?
Practice Random Kindness
There was a bumper sticker I used to have on an old car of mine, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty.” Letting a vehicle go first in traffic, giving a neighbor a ride to the grocery, and upcycling old sweaters to share with strangers as wearable art, are small things in my life that can put a smile on someone’s face. Small acts make a big difference; sometimes, it is hard to know who benefits more, the giver or the recipient. Taking time at work to explain a task or collaborate is an example of random kindness.
Fun Fact! The phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” was written by Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California, in 1982. It played on the phrase: “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty.”
“No Ordinary Moments”
I read the “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman years ago, and he suggested we consider the idea that there are no ordinary moments in our lives. I often gathered these moments in the years I spent raising my children: a moment in the kitchen with them doing homework at the counter, music playing, and me cooking dinner. While not super unique, these moments become the memories we carry forward in our lives. They are joyful touch points that I can share with others.
In the workplace, that looks like a well-run morning meeting ending early and recognition that the team accomplished a lot in less time. Or it could be when a business development/capture opportunity comes together into a well-written proposal, and you recognize the team effort matters more than the win, although both would be nice!
Catch Them Being Good
Capturing and recording critical moments is essential, while being present and responsive is also crucial. In the workplace, a critical word at the wrong moment can cause an explosion or destroy a rising leader’s desire to participate. Every working parent can share a story of when they hurt their kid with harsh words after they walked into the house exhausted. A smiling kid proudly presents a messy sandwich, and instead of thanking that kid with a big bite and compliments, the parent shouts, “OMG look at this mess!”
The book Catch them being good is co-authored by USA Women’s Soccer Coach Tony Dicicco, Colleen Hacker, and Charles Salzberg. He wrote that to be a better coach is to catch your team “being good.” This mantra is as relevant in the workplace or home kitchen as it is on the field! Praising someone’s work in a morning stand-up encourages others to seek positive feedback, as does guiding a staff member toward healthy outcomes.
Positive reinforcement wins over reprimanding every time!
Critical Incident Journal – a tool for reflection and learning
There’s a great tool that I learned in college called a Critical Incident Journal. We used this technique in our internships to capture moments that are not ordinary. We learned more from each of them by reflecting on what made a moment unique. The practice of journaling helps us become better at recognizing critical incidents and their impact and reveals hints to how we can make positive changes in our daily lives and careers.
I have incorporated this collegiate tool into my career and personal life too! They are handy for capturing the moments in our lives when our perception changes. The insights shared over the years have been surprising and insightful.
Start journaling! Learn more about critical incident journals!
Here’s a recent experience that made me pause and reflect on its critical value:
I mispronounced the name of a young woman I was interviewing, and she gently corrected my pronunciation. She shared that when at school, she pronounced it the “American way,” thinking it was easier for people to understand. But for our interview, she wanted to embrace her bi-cultural identity, so she helped me with the correct pronunciation.
I wasn’t embarrassed and appreciated her transparency and how she communicated with me. It opened the door for other topics and an informed conversation. That touch point had critical value; she felt comfortable sharing experiences and asking questions on other sensitive career topics.
Her gentle feedback also gave me pause to think about ways to be more sensitive to the small things that make a big difference in other situations.
If we all pause before speaking or acting, it might change our response. The basics of consideration that children learn in school are the same rules of etiquette for adults. For example: wait your turn, remember to share, say please and thank you politely, and don’t hit people when you don’t get your way. We learn to communicate and control our responses. Through play and interaction with others, we learn impulse management.
Two colleagues joined me at a leadership breakfast last week and said they feel compelled to make work fun. They enjoy the time more, their teams enjoy being together more, and they stay engaged for more extended periods. A leader has the responsibility to set the tone. Emphasizing joy in work helps engage team members and makes teamwork more effective, delivering better results.
** University of Sussex’s study on the impact of kindness
Call to action
Take time to notice touchpoints, critical value, and not-so-ordinary moments in your life. It’s easy to look for flaws when you can catch them being good. Small affirmations have a significant impact on those around you! And a little effort can result in strong bonds and more joy for everyone. I think that’s valuable, don’t you?
And if you fear doing something nice will be taken the wrong way, be sensitive and do it anyway. You can tell if you have made the right choice by a person’s expression.