Being kind to someone actually helps you feel less lonely.

—Lisa Smosarski

This quote—though a simple idea—goes a long way to explaining the mutual benefits of genuine kindness that I have extolled through my career. Lisa Smosarski, editor-in-chief of Stylist magazine, shared this insight on BBC Radio 4 while discussing a study conducted last year on the subject of kindness. With over 60,000 participants from 144 countries, ranging in ages 18 to 99, this study is the largest of its kind. One of the key findings was that, during COVID-19, participants reported an increase of kindness, either initiated, received, or witnessed. In this quote, Smosarski suggests the motivation behind these benevolent acts during a prolonged period of isolation. Simply put, being kind reduces feelings of loneliness.

Some believe if we are motivated by the desire to feel better, acts of kindness are somehow inauthentic. I disagree; in fact, I argue there is no such thing as acting entirely selflessly. This is not actually a cynical take; rather, the fundamental dynamic of genuine kindness is a natural reciprocity. Not only does the promise of return on investment motivate us to be kind, but the goodwill kindness creates sets an example for others, multiplying further acts of kindness.

I always take care to modify the word kindness with the adjective genuine. In fact, I believe in this so strongly that it is the title of my recently released book, Genuine Kindness: Achieving Results through Trust and Understanding. What makes kindness truly “genuine,” in part, is its reflexive nature. When we superficially mimic kindness or feel coerced into acts of kindness, the gesture will inevitably fail to reflect and build goodwill. In other words, if you are bluffing, your attempt at kindness will be transparently inauthentic.

Robin Banerjee, lead author of the BBC and University of Sussex study, made this clear when he described the reciprocal nature of kindness as a “two-way” process contributing to “building the relationship between you” and the recipient. In the workplace, genuine kindness acts as a scaffold that strengthens both teams and individual bonds. The trust it establishes allows colleagues and reports to find shared purpose in an organizational mission.

It is important to understand that the personal and professional benefits of genuine kindness do not undermine its worth. At its core, motivation to help others should ethically align with the motivation to treat ourselves well. The practicality of kindness and the four conditions that enable it—self-awareness and willingness, responding vs. reacting, authenticity, and accountability—are not intangible spiritual concepts or purely emotional attributes. As I discuss in my book, they form a useful contract between you and others who share the same mission in any successful organization.

This is the best news about genuine kindness: it is mutually beneficial, not sacrificial. In my book as well as my newly developed training module for executives and managers, Leading Through Genuine Kindness, I aim to collaborate with participants to reach these benefits in the workplace, boosting both organizational productivity and professional excellence through civility and respect. If you want to make these changes, contact TGC through our website and scroll down to apply for a special offer to participate in a half-day virtual or in-person seminar!