Kind Business, Kind Results: TEALarbor Stories

Jennifer Wilhoit, founder of TEALarbor stories, focuses on listening and writing as instances of kind action within an ecological mindset. By helping people learn how to find and tell their stories, she helps them unlock their self-compassion. I firmly believe that self-compassion unlocks our ability to practice kindness and greater levels with greater impact. I feel so honored to have met this fellow kindness practitioner as a co-instructor for The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. Later this year, she will teach a course entitled “Compassion: Growing Tenderness for Self and Other via Writing and Ecology.” You’ll learn more about it just by hearing her present it in her own words, and, taking a page from her wonderful thinking, after you’ve read it, promise yourself you’ll go out and take in the beauty of nature around you.

How do you see writing and listening contributing to kinder interactions between people? 

My business, TEALarbor stories, aims to compassionately support people as they discover their deepest stories; these might be in written form, spoken aloud in natural landscapes, involve difficult life transitions, or are focused around conflict. Writing offers individuals an opportunity to express themselves differently. Taking the time to journal, for example, people discover a voice that is wise and compassionate within themselves. The writing page doesn’t judge; it simply holds. Writing our truth on the page frees, opens, and heals us; this is a precursor to kindness. 

“Deep listening” is more than just presence with the auditory sense organ. It mandates a heart opening to “other.” I listen with my heart, in kindness, dropping judgment. Sometimes deep listening means sitting in silence with somebody, being a quiet presence to bear witness to and hold someone’s pain.

When we truly listen to another person, from our heart, we see how connected we are; we find our shared humanity. Listening from the wisdom of our hearts and releasing our desire to fix or change someone else are perhaps the greatest gifts we can give each other. Writing and listening are kind acts when we drop our agenda and graciously accept what’s being conveyed.

I notice many people stifle their voices because they criticize themselves so harshly. How can self-compassion help people break that silence? 

I spend the bulk of my time with my clients teaching them how to release self-judgment. One of my hallmark practices is called “scrap” – this doesn’t magically make the harsh, critical, tenacious inner voices go away forever, but it can help us to put them aside for now – at least during the (writing) session. Once clients engage this practice a few times, their natural instinct is to go to self-love, self-compassion.

I also encourage people to let go of their prescribed notion of outcome, especially when they are first beginning their writing project or healing process. It takes huge “courage” (being afraid and doing it anyway) to write a memoir, proceed with a rigorous scholarly paper, to shift something within so that we can move out of protracted conflict, to become restored to a new sense of wholeness after loss, or to open in stillness to what nature has to teach us. So I guide people to trust their own inner wisdom.

I think modeling compassion toward others is another really powerful way we can facilitate someone else’s move toward self-compassion. I often offer clients a short, positive mantra that they can repeat. Clients have come back to me and said, “I kept hearing your voice saying that loving phrase and I was reminded that I do deserve to love, be kind and gentle to, myself.” We practice compassion toward others, show how we can be compassionate with ourselves, and offer simple ways others can do the same for themselves. These are silence-breakers; people cannot not write once they’ve released themselves into the deep waters of self-compassion.

What is the role of nature and ecological thinking in your philosophy of kindness? 

We are nature.

When we look at the natural world around us – how the trees don’t complain when their leaves dry and the wind blows them off and the icy winter covers their limbs – we can see that our lives are beautifully interwoven with nature. The flora and fauna, the landscapes, the oceans, earthquakes, or volcanoes don’t hate or love. They just are. They do as their nature dictates. Trees stand rooted, soak up sunlight, shed leaves to conserve energy in winter, flower again in the springtime. That’s just what they do.

We humans also have a nature: human nature. The more we spend time in natural areas, find strength, inspiration, solitude and quiet, learn about what is around us in the outdoors, the more we find those things within ourselves. For nature mirrors us.

My work, my writing, my spiritual life, my leisure revolve around what I call “the inner/outer landscape.” We are inextricably interconnected with the natural world. And the more we can foster gratitude for our lives, our presence on this sumptuous planet, the gift of breath moving in and out of our lungs, sunlight and moonrises, the more we will replenish and be able to give of ourselves to others in love and tenderness. I believe this is what kindness is…at its most genuine core: kindness is gentle, compassionate, and natural.

Keep this thinking in mind whenever you feel you need a kindness reset, or when you want to unlock your own stories, your writing, your thoughts, or your feelings. You may find the key as close by as the nearest patch of open grass you can see or the next birdsong you can hear.

10 Principles For Kind Marketing

As a kindness practitioner and professional marketer, I think often about whether the materials and messages that I put out into the world follow kind principles. Any time we take our audiences’ time and attention, we tap into a limited resource, perhaps even more so in a world where every brand wants its customers to engage as well as to buy. We can even look at the modern marketer’s engagement imperative as an ecological problem, where we compete for, and ultimately affect, limited resources of emotion and cognition. Prospects and customers have to divide these resources in smaller and smaller slices to accommodate all the demands placed on them by brands and, more important, by their lives.

From this perspective, marketing seems inherently unkind, if we look with compassion at the cluttered lives most people lead. But the following ten principles for kind marketers can help us shift to a better way of contributing to the lives of our marketing audiences.

  1. Tell your truth: Before anything else, to practice kind marketing, you must believe in the value of what you are promoting. You cannot compromise on authenticity. If you work in an internal marketing department for a company you don’t believe in, then leave. If you work in an agency, take only the projects that align to your truth. If the product, service, or messages you promote do not increase the well-being of the world and of people in it, allow yourself the courage of moving on. While it may seem scary, it ultimately plays out to your benefit. The income comes back as you make yourself a stronger, truer marketer. I have left lucrative employers and then later clients, at the risk of short term pain, but not once do I look back and regret it.
  2. Seek first to enrich, and only then to engage: The marketing collateral you produce, from a simple tweet to a website, brochure, or video, should bring something more to your audiences than just a call-to-action. Kind marketers stand behind collateral that genuinely makes lives better. Stir up the audience’s kindness, appeal to their best emotions and selves, entertain them, or educate them. For example, in my recent work with a healthcare company, we directed all of our efforts to helping patients focus on wellness. While we do intend to increase business through use of the services we market, we put wellness first, then create experiences that allow patients to engage more directly in their own healthcare. Only then, do we guide them to the care and services they need.
  3. Put empathy first in your marketing plans: All good design thinking begins with activities that focus on empathizing with the customer. As a kind marketer, put yourselves in those customers’ shoes to understand how they use your products and services, and what matters most to them. That empathy should drive the content of your marketing and set the priorities for your marketing plan. In addition, you can empathize with your audience beyond their role as customers. If one of your audience segments is working single mothers, for example, think mindfully of the pressures on their time and attention before you start making demands on it. Not only does this reflect kindness, but also it increases your chances to connect with them on the basis of something they will need and buy.
  4. Give customers just what they need, and no more: The low cost and relative ease of email marketing offers many temptations to marketers. Speaking from my own experience, I can think of several companies from whom I’ve made an initial purchase, only to regret giving them my business. Why? I enjoyed the product, but I did not expect multiple emails a day about every promotion and offer they might have. Much better to allow shoppers to opt in, at the time of purchase, and to specify their desired frequency of communication. To give a more positive example, one of my favorite online apparel companies sends me a discount or free shipping promotion along with anything they ship to me. I only see the one promotion, at the moment when I am opening a package and I am most excited about being their customer. That’s kind AND smart.
  5. Release only the best collateral: We all work within limited budgets, but we can create quality collateral even at low cost when we drive ourselves to produce the best. When cost matters, dozens of sites now exist where we can acquire good stock photography, video, or audio. We can hire professional voice or on-camera talent for individual jobs. We can always make sure that our copy does not contain grammatical errors, logical errors, or inelegant style. When cost matters less, we can really push ourselves to meet the standards of an artist rather than a hack. Neither style nor substance depend on budgeting, if you put the full force of your commitment to quality to the collateral that you release into the world.
  6. Open a dialogue: You may not directly interact with your audience, unless your efforts include social media, but kind marketers always find ways to treat marketing as a conversation. Tactics can include well-known tools such as Voice of the Customer surveys, focus groups, or Net Promoter. But tools alone may not suffice. As a marketer, you can make a mental shift by treating everything you do as part of the possible conversation between yourself, your product, and your audiences. You can listen to the way your friends and family talk about similar products, or how they react to various ads and promotions. You can watch what people do on social media, even how they move through stores, interact with products, and make buying decisions. As a kind marketer, you find the entire world becoming part of your conversation.
  7. Work with others: Going it alone can result in unfortunate missteps. I know this from my own experiences, at the beginning of my career, where my passion for writing and my background of a recently completed PhD could very easily sway me into arrogance. It only takes a few sessions with product teams or with end consumers to realize that you do no one any favors by talking over their heads or speaking in an essentially private language. I also vividly remember, when in the role of a team director, I had to break the bad news to a web designer. “Those are swastikas,” I pointed out. Having creative talent may feel that talent gives us permission to go rogue, but we ultimately must remember that we don’t see our own blind spots. A team of trusted colleagues and stakeholders helps us make the shift from arrogance, or even offensiveness, to kindness.
  8. Own what you produce: Even as part of an extended team of peers, stakeholders, customers, the more you connect with the products and services you market, and the more you take ownership of the work you do, the more you can imbue them with your own deepest commitments to the world at large, including kindness. When I speak about ownership, I mean the feeling of finding and committing to what matters most, rather than keeping things to yourself. That feeling keeps you from slipping into alienation, where you begin to make compromises because “it’s ‘just’ my job,” or “it’s ‘just’ the client.” Alienation, in turn, leads through inauthenticity even as far as to lies and ethical lapses. When you remain mindful that “I am doing this” and “I am saying this,” even though it’s on behalf of something else, you escape that negative loop and enter a positive loop of marketing kindness instead.
  9. Promote sane consumption: As marketers, we don’t do our work in isolation. We operate against a background of constant consumerism, where brands push people to seek “bigger, better, and more.” Marketers can go a long way by triggering acquisitiveness and status anxiety, but that long way is the wrong way. “The overall effect of advertising is to stimulate the craving for consumption,” as Erich Fromm describes it in his masterful To Have or To Be (essential reading for kind marketers with a philosophical bent). In a world of limited natural resources and in the face of a distressed environment, we can focus our messaging on giving people choices to actualize themselves and increase their well-being, rather than buying and wasting more. For example, in the case of an educational product, rather than focusing on the anxieties of potential students, we focused on unlocking potential and on long-term life outcomes, with much better results than a fear-and-doubt based consumerism.
  10. Improve the world: Finally, without inflating the importance of marketing in the grand scheme of the world, we still must realize that what we do pervades almost everything in the modern world. Researchers place the number of brand exposures we experience each day in the thousands (including not just commercial but ambient messaging in the streets, on store shelves, online, etc.). By acting as kindness practitioners, by reflecting that kindness in the content of the collateral we put into this mix of constant brand exposures, and by actively promoting the connection between what we market and our customers’ richer, more deeply engaged and compassionate lives, we can change the underlying tone of this branded economic environment. We can do this with the images we choose, the attributes we highlight, and the stories we tell or ask others to tell about our brands. While marketing still focuses on the immediate choice of our product or service within the marketplace, it can also focus on the broader choice of how people consume and how they choose to be in the world, and that focus becomes the ultimate kindness we have to offer to those whose attention we call upon.

Kind Business, Kind Results: Margaret Meloni

Later this year, I will be teaching a course called “Becoming an Agent of Kindness in the Workplace” under the auspices of The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. One of my fellow instructors, Margaret Meloni, will be teaching a course called “Leading with Compassion: How YOU can be a Compassionate Leader.” I reached out to Margaret to learn more about the work she does. She focuses on conflict resolution strategies, emotional intelligence, dealing with difficult people, and effective communication, all of which help to build successful working relationships and keep the peace. According to Margaret, “a peaceful team is a high performing team.”

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

You describe your consulting and coaching process as a path to peace. How do you help people and organizations become more peaceful environments?

The idea of having a path to peace in the workplace originated from watching how one harsh word or thoughtless behavior could negatively impact a colleague for an extended period of time. With this came the realization that in any difficult situation, what you and I can control is our own emotions and reactions.

Initially, I provided coaching to individuals who were experiencing difficulties at work. Typically these difficulties stemmed from a challenging professional relationship or working in a corporate environment that was not a good fit. What this has evolved into is providing individuals or groups with tools that help them to strengthen their own skills in dealing with difficult people and difficult situations. The approach is really that peace comes from within, so why not become aware of how you behave while in conflict, how you communicate and how you lead? Work on yourself, because that is where you will make the biggest impact and the greatest contribution. You cannot force others to change. But your own behaviors and your response to their behaviors may in fact lead to positive changes. Then you can model peace at work, and you can set the tone for bringing kindness to the workplace.

How can kind project management approaches lead to better results (in teamwork, outcomes, etc.)?

Quite a bit of work has been done around the negative impact of stress in the workplace. High stress environments contribute to low morale, absenteeism and poor quality of work. A common cause of stress in the workplace comes from poor working relationships. Poor working relationships often stem from unresolved conflict and feelings of being disrespected and unappreciated.

Social support among employees helps to combat stress. In one laboratory study participants were exposed to equivalent levels of stressors.  Researchers leading the study found that members of cohesive groups reported the least amounts of stress. Although employees can develop strong social support structures without their leaders, it is even better when a leader sets the tone by creating a culture of kindness.

It may sound trite, but it is true that a happy team is a productive team. A happy team is better able to work together to solve problems and overcome obstacles. The result is the highly sought after high performing team.

What can project managers do to maintain authentic and compassionate relationships with project stakeholders, especially when the project hits bumps in the road?

Here is a list of behaviors that a project manager can use to bring compassion to his or her stakeholders.

  1. Encourage the productive resolution of conflict.
  2. Discourage pent up negativity.
  3. Practice forgiveness.
  4. Reach out to team members who are going through a difficult time and express your concern and let them know you are sorry they are suffering.
  5. Stop thinking about ME and start thinking about WE – when you stop focusing on your own status and ego, so will your team and this fosters a culture of kindness.
  6. Allow your team to question you and even to occasionally debate with you – without fear of repercussion.
  7. Allow your team to experience failure and then use the situation to teach and to help them grow, not to punish and admonish them.
  8. Don’t think that being compassionate makes you weak.
  9. Encourage employees to interact with one another, it is these interactions which create the bonds which help us to think about others besides ourselves.

Margaret’s ideas about intentional peace in the workplace create a healthy, stable foundation for kindness between colleagues as well as fertile ground for solid business results.

Ten Tips for Kind Parenting and Kind Children

A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend and respected colleague pointed out to me that the roots of my work on kindness go deeper than the corporation, into classrooms and homes where children are taught and raised. She asked me to write about the practice of kindness in parenting. I haven’t raised children of my own, and I felt out of my depth in approaching the topic even while agreeing with her insight. But I still wanted to do it. So I decided to ask her, and many other friends, how they maintain kindness in the ways that they interact, and how they foster kindness in their families.

Here are ten tips for kind parenting and kind children that I heard when listening to these many wise voices. No order or hierarchy implied, just deep respect for the good work these parents are doing. Note that I’m using initials out of respect for the privacy of the people who opened their hearts to me.

1. Kind parents raise kind children when they show kindness to others.

  • Model kindness in every interaction. Children see and understand so much when you think they aren’t looking. It’s easy to be kind to a good friend or a nice person, but it really means something when they see you can be kind to someone who isn’t kind. (KIH)
  • Modeling behavior is huge. Kids see and hear you from as early as 4 months, if not earlier. They will emulate you, your spouse, and your friends. Show them the world as you want it to be. (BZ)
  • Practice kindness and expose your kids to others who practice kindness. (KBC)
    If other children or adults are not kind to our kids, we try to understand what is happening for that person. What is the explanation (not the excuse!) for their bad behavior. (MS)

2. Kind parents use mindfulness to reflect before reacting.

  • I’ve learned not to overreact, especially considering my autistic son. Any overreaction had a cascading negative effect that at times took days to reverse. (DM)
  • I’ve resolved not to yell. Our family smiles and talks it out. When we butt heads, we say “I’m not allowing you to take away my smile. (MSB)
  • We also give more control to the kids as they grow, and this may allow them to be less reactive and more thoughtful about what they want and what they’re doing. (LW)
  • Watch for things that trigger anger in yourself and learn tools to handle situations before you explode all over your kids. (LGP)

3. Kind parents keep their children’s worlds open.

  • Read all kinds of things, listen to music, travel, and share information on topics they ask about. Be there for your child and engage in life. (BZ)
  • Dinner table conversations are open to any topic. In our family, this applies both to our dinner table and the Sunday dinner table at my parents’, which we share with uncles, aunties and cousins. (KBC)
  • Look at the whole, beautiful individual in front of you rather than trying to shape him into the person you want him to be or think he should be. Give time and space and choices and room to make their own discoveries and mistakes. (LGP)
  • Parenting is all about opening up the world to a kid, and providing a level of emotional support and encouragement that allows kids to not just succeed, but also to fail gloriously. I try really hard to give my kids as much “leash” as I possibly can, and teach them good problem solving skills that they can practice. (LW)

4. Kind parents instill compassion for other species.

  • Respect all species and reflect on why you do. (BZ)
  • Having pets in their lives has transformed my children. Their senses of compassion and kindness has blossomed from loving animals and being unconditionally loved in return. (BW)
  • When my daughter cries in the seafood aisle lamenting the fate of the lobsters, I don’t ridicule her; I hug her. (AP)

5. Kind parents seek to understand and validate rather than shut children down.

  • Before getting frustrated and denying their feelings, the validity of their perception of the world, I try to affirm it verbally, at the very least, relate to it with a word or two, sometimes a story from childhood or from the present day. (SPW)
  • Our middle child is genderfluid, and we have tried to be as open and supportive about how they are making their way in the world as possible. (LW)
  • When my daughter talks to me, I listen. I put away my phone, close my laptop, turn off the television and give her my undivided attention. (AMP)
  • Honor their feelings – good and bad. Even when they’re upset about something that we feel like isn’t a big deal to us, we should honor and recognize their POV. (MS)
  • Throw away punishments. Life will offer ample limits and roadblocks. Whoever thought it was a good idea to try to make kids act “good” by causing them to feel bad? (LGP)

6. Kind parents foster kind schooling options.

  • Kindness is being taught in my children’s school. It offers regularly scheduled activities centered on teaching kindness and empathy as part of a character development program. They pair older and younger children. My daughter is able to see an older child model patience and kindness while helping her. I think practicing kindness to littler children makes the older ones feel really good, too. (BW)
  • Compelling other human beings to do things, without regard to their input, interests, desires… Is that what we would want done to us as adults? How is it kind to do that to children? That includes education. I don’t think it’s particularly kind to tell another person what to learn, when to learn it, and how to learn it, and then to reward or punish that person for how well he is able to do as he’s been told. (LGP)
  • Let them quit things. Dabbling is good. The more things they get to try, the more they get to discover what they like and don’t like. Don’t make them stick with something just because they started, or because you paid for it. (LGP)

7. Kind parents create community.

  • If you don’t have good parenting role models from your own life, find some. Get support. (LGP)
  • As a parent you are constantly wondering, evaluating etc. Because I want to be the best patent I can be, I started a book club where we ask each other questions, read nerdy parenting books, etc. I even write up “Cliff’s Notes” for moms who don’t have time to read the books. (BZ)
  • As LGBT parents, my husband and I thought it was important to raise our children in a religious community to foster kindness. Judaism focuses much more on our acts than our beliefs. As Jews, we believe there is a moral obligation to be kind to the “stranger” because we were strangers and slaves in Egypt. As a result, we have always emphasized involvement in the Jewish community as a way of fostering kindness in our children. (MF)

8. Kind parents don’t take cues from conventional wisdom.

  • I think it is kind to question and pick apart age­-old (as well as trendy new) “truisms” about parenting and ask yourself mindfully how they apply to your child and your family and your philosophy: Things like, “They need structure!” or “A rule is a rule and they must follow it!” or “You are their parent, not their friend!” (LGP)
  • I try really hard to give my kids as much “leash” as I possibly can, and teach them good problem solving skills that they can practice. For example, both my older kids dropped out of traditional school and attended a self-directed learning school where kids can pursue what they’re interested in. The transition to college for our oldest daughter was largely free of the stress and upheaval and poor decision-making that marks so many kids’ freshman years. (LW)

9. Kind parents apologize.

  • When I do yell, I apologize to myself and him. (MSB)
  • I apologize to my kids all the time. Acknowledging mistakes is important, saying you’re sorry is important, accepting people’s apologies, not holding a grudge and moving forward from there is important. I often tell them that living with other people isn’t easy, it necessarily involves making compromises and not always getting your way. (SPW)

10. Kind parents deserve a healthy dose of self-compassion.

No one parent said this to me directly, but instead, each parent expressed concern that they might make mistakes, that they don’t always practice the principles they wish to. I doubt that parenting perfection exists outside the myths and anxieties of our media and marketing culture. So I would close this list of tips by responding with a final tip of my own, coming back to my friend’s original appeal for a post on kindness and parenting. When parents show kindness to themselves, see their own potential flaws, and forgive themselves in advance for missteps, they open a channel of confidence in their higher-level commitment to kind parenting and kind children.

Kindness does not mean flawlessness. It means “Trust, Respect, Choice,” as one of the children of these parents described it when she asked him what he thought about the topic. By direct application of these principles to themselves as parents, parents further magnify the kindness they instill in their children.

All of the parents who joined their voices to this list made their commitment to kind parenting and kind children abundantly clear. I am both grateful for and humbled by their firm commitments to helping other parents do their best, and to fostering a type of kindness that their children can practice and spread to others throughout their lives. In building a better, kinder world, we all do our parts.