Even in a difficult conversation, kindness can build trust and support high performance.

Kindness is often sacrificed for truth and necessity. It doesn’t have to be. You can deliver a message with kindness even if it will be difficult for another person to hear. Think about how your message will affect the other person(s) and acknowledge this with some care.

For example, if you need to announce a reduction in staff as part of a bigger vision of success for your organization, your message needs to show respect for and sensitivity to those who will be affected. By anticipating the impact you will have on others, much needless harm can be averted.

Most people feel chronically unheard or misunderstood. You can offset this through deliberate and focused listening. After you have heard what the other person has to say, let them know that you heard, respect and empathize with their issues-even if you don’t agree. If you have heard accurately, it can be very satisfying to the other person.

Acknowledging what you understand to be important to the other person can be an expression of kindness. People will often spontaneously open up to and trust those who stop to actually listen and show that they really heard what was said.

Some eye contact can also be helpful in creating rapport and trust. Kindness can be communicated through your gaze. But keep your gaze soft rather than penetrating, if you want the other person to feel comfortable.

When you communicate with a balance of kindness and firmness, you offer something reliable and trustworthy. This can be comforting and reassuring to the other person, making it easier for them to respond in capable, constructive ways, especially when what you have to say is challenging.

Communicating with kindness will help to build relationships that are rooted in understanding and trust. This is part of the foundation for high performance.

Action Steps

1. Smile at someone you usually don’t acknowledge. Notice the effect you have and how they respond to you later on.

2. Notice the beliefs you have that are associated with kindness. Are any of these beliefs limiting you or in need of revision? For example, the belief that being kind means sacrificing accountability is a limiting one. A more expanded perspective would make it possible for kindness and accountability to operate together.

3. Give someone a sincere compliment. Reach deep for something that you know this person values.

4. Look at your work group and see what you can do to make the relationships and climate both kinder and more productive.

5. If you have said or done something that may have needlessly hurt someone, reach out to that person and repair the damage. You’ll both feel better.

6. Notice how the absence of self-care makes it very difficult to be kind to others. Download a copy of the Self-Care Inventory to assess your own self-care.