Where small acts can deliver kindness and consideration

Acknowledge important milestones, congratulate colleagues if they get a promotion or complete a great piece of work
Acknowledge important milestones, congratulate colleagues if they get a promotion or complete a great piece of work

I’ve written before about micro-aggressions: small, often intentional (although sometimes unintentional) acts that serve to make others at work feel alienated, excluded or unworthy. Often these are targeted at characteristics like race, religion or gender they can be demoralising, hurtful and leave people exhausted trying to deal with them. The sly comments, the exclusions, the negatives disguised as compliments, the not so ‘innocent’ questions; there are lots of ways these creep into the workplace.

Today though I’d like to look at the other side of the coin. Where small acts and gestures can be used for delivering kindness and consideration, to boost morale, to bring positivity into someone’s day, making them feel good about themselves and life in general and helping improve the workplace overall.

Working as a counter to micro-aggressions are what’s known as micro-affirmations. Where we are able to employ similar techniques, but use them for positive interaction, to improve confidence, to make others feel welcomes and included. Instead of negativity, how about we build trust, validate colleagues’ experiences, value their backgrounds and celebrate their diversity.

Ideally, we would all be at the stage where we don’t even know we are providing micro-affirmations, they just come naturally. In some cases, folks are already at this level; they just have a gift for lifting those around them. For everyone though it’s something that can be learned, practiced, refined and consciously employed. They cost little to deliver but have a great impact.

So: what can we do?

· Listen to how someone describes their own identity. Consider the pronouns they use, how they describe or refer to themselves. Then simply do them the courtesy of responding accordingly.

· Take time to be present and actually listen to a conversation without interrupting and then ask questions about what you have heard. Demonstrate you are interested, not just using the time while they are speaking to line up your own reply or anecdote.

· Acknowledge important milestones, congratulate colleagues if they get a promotion or complete a great piece of work.

· If you are in a group setting and one person is taking over the discussion and grandstanding then bring others into the conversation. Ask them directly for their opinions. Allow them the time and space to make their points.

· Celebrate or at least point out/recognize the successes of others, or their contribution to yours.

· Smile and say hello. Engage in small talk. If someone is shy or seems to find it difficult to mix in work; make an effort to connect with them and get them involved.

· Try and remember any conversations you have had with colleagues about their life outside work and follow these up. If they were going on holiday last time you spoke; ask then how they enjoyed it next time you meet for example.

· Make eye contact when you are engaged in conversation, don’t spend all the time looking at your phone, a report or your PC screen. Stop what you are doing and how them you are interested in what they are saying.

· Remember to also respect boundaries. If some folks are very uncomfortable in certain situations or have a real aversion to certain topics of conversation then don’t bring these up.

· Think and reflect on what you say and how you say it: tone, topic and timing. If you can improve on these they will help immensely.

· If you can convey a message in person rather than email, take that opportunity. This helps build relationships and also shows you value your colleague.

· Apologise when things go wrong. It can mean a lot.

Not only do micro-affirmations show respect and courtesy to others, but they also go some way to combating bias (especially unconscious bias) in the workplace. They act as an antidote to any poison built up and help create an atmosphere where staff feel valued, appreciated and included.

For some these may just seem like having good manners, but in an increasingly polarised world, where everyone seems to have so little time they are easily forgotten or overlooked. Let’s make an effort.

:: Barry Shannon is head of HR at STATSports