On kindness

Can a career be built on kindness?

About a month ago, I referred a recent graduate in my professional network to another colleague for an informational interview. It went really well, so well in fact that she was interviewed for a position in his company and was later hired. She's thrilled, and my colleague was touched that I held him in such esteem as a source of expertise.

I didn't know either of them very well, but I had had a few small, kind exchanges with both of them in the past. A positive comment on my LinkedIn post, a quick read of her most recent blog entry, passing along an event notice--nothing arduous or time-consuming, but definitely an example of kindness.

Where does kindness come from?

What made me facilitate this connection? What inspired my colleague to step up and invite the graduate for coffee? I'm not sure anyone can say definitely where kindness comes from. If I take a moment to really think about my life, I can remember moments of kindness that were pivotal for me, especially when I was looking for a new job.

I will always be grateful to a former coworker, Ari, who "put in a good word" for me to get an interview for my second "real" job. I'm indebted to Joan as well. When I didn't make the cut for first round interviews at a university, she called her former advisor who was the hiring manager, encouraging her to take a second look at my résumé. I was interviewed after all, got an offer and ended up working there for seven rewarding years.

Is kindness dependent on reciprocity?

Perhaps we are kind because we have been the grateful recipients of past kindnesses. But what about kindness in very young children? I have a vivid memory of my nephew. He was just about 1 year old when he saw his grandmother trip slightly on uneven payment. "You OK?" he asked with a sweet, concerned expression. I'm convinced that, for some of us at least, kindness is an intrinsic quality, part of our DNA.

Could kindness have an evolutionary advantage?

In a study described in Scientific American, kindness appears to be a factor in the perception of physical attractiveness. Here is how the study worked:

"Members of a university rowing team were asked…to rate all other team members on the following dimensions: talent, effort, respect, liking, and physical attractiveness. [They] were also rated for physical attractiveness by a group of strangers about the same age as the crew members (the photo was a group photo).

"Perceptions of physical attractiveness were heavily influenced by non-physical traits. Also, the ratings made by the strangers and the ratings made by the crew members who had information about the non-physical traits of the other crew members differed significantly." 

So when a team member worked hard, showed respect, and displayed talent, teammates rated him as more physically attractive than strangers who didn't know him personally. The researchers theorize that perhaps there is an evolutionary advantage to kindness.

The networking advantage of kindness

I'm sure of one thing: there is a distinct advantage to being kind when relying on your network. There is an exponential factor to kind acts, at times. When I've paid little attention to being thoughtful, I've gotten very few returns. But when I've made a conscious, deliberate decision to pay attention, to actively seek out opportunities to be kind, it starts a sort of "virtuous cycle" - people in my life respond, consciously trying to find ways to help me, as well.

So here goes. How can I help you? If you're reading this, and you'd like an introduction to someone in my network on LinkedIn, let me know. If you could use a bit of encouragement, drop me a note. Let's see if we can help each other and get the "virtuous cycle" spinning madly in a positive direction!

(Click here for the full article in Scientific American referenced above.)