Kind Feedback: Don’t Make This Common Manager’s Mistake

Simple concept. Managers, don’t do this!


We don’t have to give everyone a gold star for everything they do, but let’s also free ourselves from the tendency to focus only on the negative. Managers can focus on reinforcing the best aspects of each employee’s performance. Peers, too, can shift their frame of reference, by keeping unmet expectations and concerns in proper perspective. Too often, we are conditioned to ignore what’s working well; we problematize rather than find ways to maximize and create shared progress through collaborative outcomes.

Photo credit: via Henry Ward.

Kind Initiatives, Kind Results: OutLift

Can a sport culture focused on aggressive personal goals and high-intensity workouts also provide a seedbed for kindness? If you’re among the few people who haven’t heard of it, CrossFit is an intensive conditioning program that has taken the fitness world by storm with its rigorous workout approaches and philosophy of personal engagement and commitment. Here in Los Angeles, a group of LGBTQ CrossFit practitioners has formed OutLift to create a welcoming community for LGBTQ athletes and allies, and do some heavy lifting for visibility and tolerance in the process.

I interviewed the five founders to hear more of the OutLift story and learn about how these athletes champion the cause of kindness. On Saturday, June 18, they are conducting a daily workout dedicated to the victims of the recent horrific tragedy in Orlando. Click here to learn more about their event and how to support them no matter where you live.


1. What inspired you to create OutLift? What aspects of CrossFit culture did you want to address? 

“CrossFit has been an evolving brand since it first started with military, firemen, police officers, etc.,” says Samantha Kinne, originally from the backwoods of Maine, who heads up outreach for the group. “There is still this stigma that it is only for a certain demographic. My biggest goal has been about making it accessible and inviting for everyone, especially LGBTQ people.”

Kevin Wu, who does programming and coaches workouts for OutLift, adds “I was looking for a social group of like-minded people to do one of my favorite activities. The consistency of CrossFit movements and terminology lends itself to having people from all over work out together, but because affiliates operate independently, you don’t see much interaction between individual boxes [i.e., gyms for CrossFit participants].”

Christian Port, an LA native, longtime nonprofit professional, and social justice advocate, reflects on what gave him the initial idea to form OutLift: “CrossFit has completely transformed my life and empowered the work that I do in ways that I never thought imaginable, and I’ve seen it have that effect on my peers as well. I saw the connection between CrossFit, social justice, and empowerment, and immediately recognized that it had the potential to be a conduit for social change, a disruption to the sense of disenfranchisement I felt during my youth.”

2. What kinds of things do you do within the group and the broader CrossFit community to make it a kinder, more welcoming environment?

Justin Sevakis heads up OutLift’s internal operations and finance. He describes himself as “a grumpy, closeted, pudgy nerd, and within a year became a fit, out and slightly less grumpy fitness enthusiast.”

Justin clarifies that he doesn’t know of any gym owners or coaches who are overtly homophobic. “But certain classically ‘bro’ attitudes can easily creep in from time to time. Having a visible presence for the LGBTQ community within CrossFit reminds the rest of the CrossFit world that we make up a valuable part of the scene. It’s a subtle way of making participating gyms a more welcoming place.”

Samantha believes the nature of the workouts creates kind camaraderie as she does outreach to other boxes. “Doing something new is always scary but in the end, usually worth it. There is something about doing a grueling workout together that builds relationships.” Kevin stresses stress that all athletes and allies are welcome, regardless of ability.

Chris Swanson, a Bay Area native, incorporates this approach into the branding and marketing communications that he spearheads for OutLift. He focuses on getting the word out there “to break down the perceived stereotypes about the sport and help create a brand that is approachable, authentic, and inclusive.” That approach dovetails with his personal experience beginning CrossFit. Although he has participated in a wide range of sports from soccer to gymnastics since childhood, “I was terrified,” he explains, “but by working through fear I found family.”

3. In your ideal world, where will OutLift be in three to five years? How would you like to expand your organization and its impact?

All five founding members see OutLift as a way to create more community among CrossFit gyms across Southern California. They want to break down some of the natural barriers that rise when each box has its own members and culture. Chris describes it as a way to “build stronger communities, providing strength, hope, safety and health.” They also want to help channel CrossFit’s typical high level of engagement to greater good in the world at large. “We’re hoping to work with local charities and do some good works, and also just allow friendships and connections to happen organically, that might not have happened otherwise,” says Justin. Kevin and Samantha both agree with that idea.

When thinking about broader impact, Christian further points out “we have so much work to do to challenge homophobia, transphobia, and stereotypes in athletics at the national level in a meaningful way. We need more honest and direct exposure with CrossFit HQ, and we need more out and proud LGBTQ athletes competing in the CrossFit games. There is a lot of work that we hope to do, such as working with LGBTQ youth and providing them with a safe and welcoming athletic environment that you don’t find in public schools. We hope to be doing big, bold things in the next few years!”

I didn’t go into my conversation with the OutLift founders thinking that a fitness technique would translate into commitments to creating a kinder world. But they reinforced one of the core beliefs I’ve come to in my Kindness Communication work. They turned out to offer a great example of an organization where kind attitudes yield kind results. Energy and commitment, when focused on kind principles such as welcoming and helping others, can translate into much more impact than what it might seem on the surface. If you’d like to stay in the loop with OutLift’s events and mission, I encourage you to like their Facebook page.

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Open Grief (For Orlando And For Humankind)

Words cannot contain the vast sadness of what happened in Orlando on June 12, 2016. So many lives ended, so many more now confronting the loss of loved ones, the inexhaustible specificity of each person’s world. What we see as a single event in fact contains thousands of events, the stories and realities of those who were murdered, and of their families, partners, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbors, and even pets, the impact to those who survived and those who responded. Enough vastness to defeat the mind, overwhelm the heart, and stifle the voice, all those fragments, each in their own right a universe of feeling and potential, now piercing the surface of our own realities as painful shards. But we can also open ourselves to these shards and cultivate them as seeds, not as ashes but as sparks to bring about a better world.

Often, we close ourselves off to the multiplicity of tragedies by looking for easy answers. We neatly package them in our hearts as one single event, unable to embrace the diversity of effects and equally reluctant to accept their many, many causes. Since Sunday morning, I’ve seen so many people grasping for the comfort of a single explanation, be it gun control, radical Islam, fundamentalism more broadly, homophobia, mental illness, domestic security, racism, or any other master narrative that helps it all make sense. But I don’t think making sense of it with a pre-existing explanation helps beyond one’s personal solace. All of these factors and many more converged at a single point in time, a confluence of forces with a tragic outcome which, too, splits off into more outcomes than any one of us comprehend to its full depth. This closed grief, however, also closes off the opportunity to create change.

We can accomplish so much more if we nurture open grief. Instead of closing ourselves off with convenient explanations and consoling tropes, let’s maintain a radical openness, in order to do full honor to all effects and causes. Beyond a call for just respect, however, our openness breaks more fertile ground for cultivating seeds of action. As a society, and as parts of the many interdependent tribes that compose it, we need this. We need everyone’s engagement to combat the many forces that lead to death instead of to kindness. If we only address one or a small few, the others will still come together and conspire with new allies to inflict hatred and pain. We can’t let our rightful, righteous anger at what happened tempt us into denigrating other people’s efforts to pursue change and prevent something similar from happening again. If we can’t commit ourselves to the struggles that our friends choose as their means to promote change, we can at least support them as allies who empathize with their commitments to change.

Similarly, at times like this, we can use our own open grief to reflect on what we can do for a better future. Let singers sing, let writers write, let doers do, let thinkers think, and let none of us look down on how our fellow humans choose to respond. In open grief, we look to our own most powerful tools, and we embrace the special powers of those around us. We can all acknowledge and encourage each other’s power, at our best, rather than scold each others efforts, at our most frustrated. And we cannot defeat the causes of our grief by tapping into the same sort of rigid absolutisms that led to it.

In short, none of us has the answer, but we all have the power. When we grieve openly, showing our sadness, and knowing the sadness of others, we channel that power in tangible ways towards creating a kinder world.

To learn more about the victims’ lives, see this interactive feature in The Guardian.

Harambe The Gorilla: Compassion Is Not A Contest

The needless death of Harambe the gorilla deserves our sadness. By now, however, the news and commentary cycle has fallen into its consistent pattern. We saw the same with Cecil the lion. An unnecessary death hits the news and triggers an outpouring of sadness and outrage. Then, in come the commenters desperate to show they are somehow above it, above those of us who dare to grieve for an animal life. Why are some people so eager to use a murdered animal as a pretext for showing their moral superiority by stating concern for something supposedly more important? I don’t understand the underlying thinking.

As practitioners of kindness, as compassionate people, as basically ethical human beings, we can look at two situations and mourn for them both, each in their own sad terms, each acknowledged as such. Nothing in my grief for Harambe precludes my grief for refugees, my grief at unnecessary suffering and deaths inflicted on any living beings. In reality, our hearts enough capacity to hold compassion for all of this suffering and more. We don’t need to diminish one suffering to raise up another. We have enough kindness for all.

In addition to limiting our capacity for compassion, the pendulum swing points out the danger of a certain kind of moral reasoning. I firmly believe we must not appoint ourselves the arbiter of which suffering matters more than others. We don’t know, and when we pretend we do, we dismiss the grief and suffering of others. Scolding and policing other people’s compassion quickly leads to unkindness.

The kinder approach: let’s lift each other up, console each other, respect each other’s grief, and avoid the temptation of treating our compassion as a contest for who displays the most moral virtue. And let’s honor the victims of cruelty, be they human or animal, by acknowledging them in their own fullness, for their own sake, and in humble awareness for the value of all life.

Photo credit: Robert Streithorst