09/22/2020 • 5 min read

Manners Maketh the Person

Sharing kindness throughout your team

by Matthew Bromley

This is the second article in a three-part series based on my reflections following a pre-pandemic trip to Japan (remember those crazy times when we could travel?), and how I relate my observations to our current situation. You can read the first installment, Sustaining Your Workplace Tribe, right here on Spark.

I’ve been spending these—excuse the overused phrase—unprecedented times sustaining my tribe and helping our organization shift gears to a new normal. Unfortunately, this follow-up to my first article ended up at the bottom of my to-do list. But, the world has ended up in a place no one could have predicted, and I really wanted to get my thoughts down on virtual paper and share them with you now.

So here I am, on a rainy day in Singapore, pondering the notions of manners and kindness, which have been helping both me and my team get through this whole situation.

A Culture of Consideration

Two of the most valued Japanese traits are manners and consideration towards others. There are rules of etiquette for all sorts of situations. Whether you’re taking a bath, riding on a train, giving and receiving business cards, using chopsticks, or practicing sitting techniques, there’s an unwritten set of rules for almost anything you can think of. If you’re travelling to Japan, it would certainly pay off to research some of these. Your hosts will be very appreciative.

It’s a little unclear as to where this politeness comes from, but some commonly offered reasons include:

  1. Japanese philosophy and religion prioritize country and family over self.
  2. Stepping outside group cultures and rules is greatly frowned upon, and doing so is perceived as a large threat to social standing.
  3. The importance of manners is taught to children from an early age, both at home and at school.
  4. Respect and manners are essential for social harmony in densely populated Japanese cities, where people live and work so closely with others.

Kindness Counts

Kindness isn’t something we always associate with success. Often, individuals or organizations will have a cutthroat, or compete-to-win culture, where the winner is the fastest or most ruthless. Even with the recent focus on well-being in the workplace, we regularly overlook the importance of being kind to ourselves and to each other.

Forbes magazine recently wrote about research conducted by the University of California in Coca-Cola’s Madrid headquarters, which measured the effects of kindness toward one another on staff members’ moods, satisfaction levels, and feelings. As part of the study, 19 staff members performed random acts of kindness over a period of four weeks; these acts could be as simple as buying a coworker a coffee or sending them a thank-you note for a job well done.

After the four weeks, they made the following conclusions:

  1. Acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed. People who received acts of kindness were likely to seek out the “givers” and say, “Thank you.”
  2. Generosity propagates and spreads. “Receivers” of kindness were more likely to pay it forward.
  3. Staff members rated higher levels of job and life satisfaction, and fewer depressive symptoms.
  4. Overall, positivity in the workplace increased.

Our current circumstances have made kindness more essential. Many of us are spending a lot less time with our colleagues, customers, and suppliers in person. To stay connected, we’re taking greater advantage of technology. However, virtual communications tend to remove the intimacy of face-to-face interactions—not to mention our ability to read tone, intent, and other important social signals we use when communicating with each other.

Right now, it’s vital that we’re choosing the right cadence, methods, language, and forums for our communications with each other at work. It’s also important to examine your message intent and question whether it’s coming from a place of kindness. As my good friend and communication thought leader Georgia Murch says, “People hear your content; they smell your intent.”

And, as we’re spending far more time with the members of our household, it’s equally imperative that we’re doing the same at home. Divorce and domestic violence rates have skyrocketed in most nations due to stay-at-home orders. While underlying issues were likely present in those situations prior to the pandemic, generally healthy relationships are taking a hit too. Even the pettiest of quarrels among family members have become more prevalent, indicating that kindness is lacking.

Bringing Kindness to Work

With everything that we’ve seen and all we know about the need for human kindness (for both the giver and receiver), I’ve been researching ways to inject kindness into the workplace. Of those I’ve found, my favorites are:

  1. Feed people. Sharing food is one of the simplest ways people can connect and bring joy. Have healthy and hearty foods available in the workplace and great environments in which to enjoy them.
  2. Show gratitude. Include a positive affirmation in your regular team meeting. Encourage team members thank each other for jobs well done or share other appreciative thoughts.
  3. Create a “Kindness Wall.” We have a “Thank You” wall at each of our yearly Kick-Offs, where members can leave thank-you notes for each other. I’d love to make this a more permanent fixture in our space.
  4. Random acts of kindness. Encourage this behavior within the team, like in the Coca-Cola example above.

I love the idea of the random acts of kindness and the results it brought for Coca-Cola! So, this month, I’m going to embed a program across our Southeast Asia team. I’ll be encouraging our members to surprise and delight each other with serendipitous acts from the heart.

What will you do to bring kindness and instil it in others?

Stay tuned for part 3 in this series—coming soon!


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