At Work & Theology 101

Is Your Office Too Cutthroat for Kindness?

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The office can sometimes feel too cutthroat for kindness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Welcome back to our blog series on love at work. We’ve been taking a look at the Apostle Paul’s description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7 and applying it to the workplace.

I Corinthians 13:4 says love is kind.

The word Paul uses for kind literally means to show oneself useful.

That’s unexpected! It’s also the only time this Greek word is used in the New Testatment.

To prepare for this blog post, I went on a quest to understand what Paul is saying.

A Quest for Kindness

I started by surveying some of my IFWE colleagues and asking them to define kindness. They suggested words like considerate, polite, caring, and compassionate.

They explained that kind people are pleasant to be around and have friendly dispositions. Several people noted that there is a difference between genuine kindness and the appearance of kindness.

Several colleagues pointed out that kindness is action-oriented. It’s something we demonstrate, not just an inner attitude we have toward another person. Kindness is the outward and active companion to the inward attitude of patience.

As I approached each person, I was surprised to find that most of them paused for a few seconds before answering. Apparently we don’t keep a definition of this word on the tips of our tongues.

I think we might process kindness in a visceral way rather than in a cognitive way. We feel kindness more than we think about it.

The Purpose of Kindness at Work

My quest led to a great discovery. By using this word, Paul is expressing a beautiful concept and giving us a wonderful way to think about love – especially love at work.

Through our intentional acts of kindness we help our colleagues. That is, we make ourselves useful to them.

By pitching in to help or by offering an encouraging word, we are stepping in to walk alongside them and helping to carry some of their load.

Here’s the part I really like – stretch your mind with me on this: when we show kindness to our colleagues, when we pitch-in and help them accomplish the things before them, in some sense we affirm their God-given purpose in this world!

We could choose to do a lot of things other than help our colleagues. But, when we choose to show kindness, our actions say, I value you and your work. I want to help you.

Our acts of kindness help people make their way through each day. They are subtle reminders to our colleagues that they are not alone in this world and that they are cherished.

Years ago, my family and I moved to Michigan when I started a new job with a computer company. Most of the people in the office were in sales and customer support.

I was in a corporate role. My boss and teammates were in another state. It could have been a disaster. Two guys, Jeff and Steve, made the extra effort to include me and help me get settled.

Their kindness, friendship, and concern made all the difference. They could have seen me simply as that guy from corporate. Instead, their actions told me that I was one of them. I was not alone in the office.

Practicing Kindness

There are so many ways we can demonstrate kindness to our colleagues. Here are a few principles to help you.

  • Pitch-in. When colleagues are facing tight deadlines and piles of work, offer to help. You don’t have to take over. Sometimes even a simple act of service will make a big difference for your colleague. Be ready with these magic words: How can I help?
  • Be an encourager. Build relationships with your colleagues and find ways to share encouraging words and thoughts with them. Be a good listener and find ways to help them navigate the challenges and frustrations of each day.
  • Avoid superficial niceties. Being nice is not the same as being kind. By all means, be nice to people. But, don’t exchange the opportunity to be truly useful for a few nice words.

Up next in this blog series on love at work: love does not envy.

Have you been the recipient of kindness at work? 

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  • Christine C.

    Unfortunately, what I’ve experienced is that those who express curiosity about your life are those that spend the majority of their time in the office trash talking others. There’s nothing to support the belief that it comes from a place of generosity or compassion in my office — more like one of insecurity and shame-fueled aggression.

    The same with offering consideration or kindness in regards to actual work..due to ego or politics, I find myself working against my colleagues who blatantly lie and deny knowledge of obvious oversight on their part, in front of a manager who refuses to address these failures (rendering honest work an anomaly). Friends have confirmed this same experience at their offices, and it was similar in a previous office I worked at.

    All of this to say, I think to one who has not experienced this – kindness is one-dimensional. However, in the office, it’s a minefield of duplicity and veiled intentions.
    I have found that integrity and character have been the greater messages of kindness than anything I previously associated with kindness, and a much greate gauge of who is “for me” in any sense of that notion.

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