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The Cost of Being Kind

My current job requires extensive travel. And by extensive, I mean a lot! For example, for the month of February , I traveled all but one week.

I dont mind all the trips. I like visiting the different offices and building new relationships. Plus, I discover the soul of each town in which I spend time. Each new place I visit, whether urban or rural, seems to have its own personality. I enjoy getting to learn that personality by eating at local places, shopping at local stores and talking to the people I meet along the way.

The downside of traveling involves numerous nights spent in beds that are not my own. Needless to say, I do not sleep well in hotels. Hotel beds just are not comfortable enough to give me a really good night's sleep. Perhaps, it is knowing that strangers are on every side of you and above you and below you. Or perhaps I am processing all the newness. For whatever reason, after a week on the road, I am ready to return to my adjustable bed!

This morning, as I was trying to enjoy my oatmeal, fresh fruit, and a steaming mug of coffee; I gazed around the dining room at the other people partaking of the complimentary breakfast. Most people were staring, glassy eyed, at their phones while unconsciously bringing their forks up to their mouths. No one made eye contact with anyone.

While I am a generally happy person, and often love to speak to people I don't know in elevators, check out lines, and such..I had not yet had my first complete cup of coffee. Therefore, as my family would attest, I was still a grizzly bear in a peasant skirt. Furthermore, I was unhappy with the consistency of the oatmeal. It was extremely runny. And I found that the strawberries tasted unripe. However, I continued to eat, eyes down, in grumpy silence.

At the table next to me an elderly couple were also eating oatmeal. When the dining Room attendant walked by her, the elderly lady got her attention.

"Ma'am" she began.

I thought, here it comes. Someone is going to complain about this runny oatmeal. Interested, I lifted my eyes and watched the exchange.

The attendant stopped in front of their table and ask if she could be of help. The lady astonished me when she said, " I just wanted to thank you for this lovely breakfast. I have seen how hard you are working to make sure everything is right. And we just wanted to thank you."

This is obviously not what I expected. Apparently, it was not what the attendant expected either. At first she was surprised, and then a huge smile covered her face that lasted as she walked back to the kitchen.


As I watched the entire scene unfold, it really gave me pause. The elderly lady had the same runny oatmeal I had. She truly cannot have thought it was a wonderful breakfast. However, she took time out to make the attendant feel valued and appreciated.

And it cost her nothing.

But to the attendant, that kindness was worth a lot.

I wondered how kindness translates to Social Work and Mental Health leadership. Do we, as leaders, take the time to build up our staff? Do they feel valued? Or...Do we just point out the mistakes that they make? Do we, in our efforts to help them grow, continuously give them feedback on ways they can improve? Our intentions may be noble, but we need to shift our focus.

Our staff have a difficult job working with difficult people. They do really important work helping families in crisis to be able to make positive changes. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes, they just have a bad day. How do we handle feedback to our staff when things are not perfect?

I learned a lesson today from an elderly lady who said across from me in a crowded dining room over complimentary oat meal. As I reflect on her words, the lady never claimed that her breakfast was delicious. She simply said she had noticed how hard the attendant was working to make things right and that she appreciated it.

And that one comment,believe it or not, resulted in the only smile I had seen on the attendant's face all morning. She felt appreciated.

It costs nothing to be kind: not time, not productivity, not efficiency. As a matter of fact, many studies have shown that employees who feel valued and appreciated are actually more productive and more efficient.

My challenge to you this week is this: Think about the staff that are on your team. Think about each one and their individual strengths. They all have a strength. Try to find a way in the next week to work it in to a conversation. It doesn't have to be elaborate or take up much time. But it does have to be sincere.

You may find, when you focus on all they have done right, it will be easier to help them move towards those needed improvements.

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