“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire
kind people.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel

In this series I’m sharing the Six Shifts leaders can make in order to be more successful in having a high-stakes conversation. Shift 6 involves shifting from being right to being kind.

Here’s what I DON’T mean by “kindness”:

* Adopting a false persona of “nice” and “agreeable.”
* Avoiding a high-stakes conversation, at all costs, in order to preserve that persona.

Kindness has three important qualities:
Compassion: Seeing another person’s needs, goals, and challenges as being as valid as one’s own.
Empathy: Attunement to and curiosity about another person’s experiences and feelings.
Generosity: Giving others the benefit of the doubt, assuming good intentions.

In practice, what does “being kind” mean when you want to raise a difficult issue or disagree with someone? Here are some concrete ways to bring kindness into a difficult conversation.

Assume good intentions. When you describe the impact someone had on you, let them off the hook by saying, “I’m guessing this was not your intention.”

Don’t make friendship contingent on agreement. Friendships are based on trust, mutual caring, and dependability. We don’t always need to agree. So, unless a divisive issue is a deal breaker (e.g., you find yourself harboring resentment and suppressing anger about it), let people believe what they believe.

Call time out. When your anger and frustration are causing you to over-assert your point or take a disrespectful tone, take a break. Sometimes people need time to process new information, reduce their defensiveness, and reconsider their previous position. So, take a break with a commitment to come back to the conversation at a specific time.

How do you balance the need for candor and authenticity with the desire to be kind?

Image credit: J W on Unsplash

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