5 Keys to Achieving Workplace Immortality – Kindness (2 of 5)

(This post is a weighty topic – doing business better. As such I am not able to cut it down to ‘blog post’ size. I will be cutting them up into a single post for each of the 5 tenets)


2 of 5

Take any business strategy course and you will find that kindness is the most productive path forward. In The Art of Strategy (Dixit and Nalebuff 2008) the authors discuss the best strategy a player may choose in the Prisoners’ Dilemma. (This is a situation in which both of two participants have an incentive to choose an action that benefits themselves at the expense of the other participant unless both participants choose such an action. If both choose ‘cooperate’ they split a reward. If both choose ‘deceive’ they both lose a reward. If one chooses ‘cooperate’ and the other ‘deceive’ then the deceiver alone wins the reward.)

The first winner of their competition followed a strategy called ‘tit for tat’. The tactic for this strategy was nearly as simple as the strategy itself. It had two steps: choose ‘cooperate’ until the other participant chooses ‘deceive’. After the other participant has chosen ‘deceive’, choose whatever action the other participant chose in the previous round. This was the winning strategy until mistakes were allowed into the game which meant the other participant may have accidentally chosen ‘deceive’. This more closely mirrored the real world. Tit for tat could not function in this scenario. In fact, the outcome for any game became even worse when others began to also practice the tit for tat strategy in this environment. As soon as one person mistakenly chose ‘deceive’ there was no coming out of the ‘deceive-deceive’ spiral.

At this point, the winning strategy became ‘Tit for Tat-Tat’. In this strategy the winner gave one allowance to the participant that chose ‘deceive’. If ‘deceive’ was chosen again then the regular tit for tat tactics were employed. To summarize, in the real world, when we give someone the benefit of the doubt we give them a period to change their behaviour, whether it was purposely chosen or not. Note that this lenient strategy beat out even those strategies that tried to take advantage of the leniency offered.


It is no different in business or life. A bit of kindness goes a long way in changing the behaviour around us. Many management philosophies today also recognize the long-term benefits of kindness in the workplace (see the recent book ‘Leading with Kindness). I am finding that those attributes that lead to long-term benefits are usually the one that are worth cultivating.

I had a campus job for several years while in college. The job came with two bosses – one was a micro-manager who often lost his temper and the other was kind but stern. Which one do you think I thrived under? Which one do you think I wanted to work harder for?

I have had another boss who changed my view on a number of topics. How? Every time I came back from a project he was there with a smile and encouraging words. I opened up to him and became receptive to his views. This allowed me to truly consider his words. Remember that changing someone’s mind is a difficult thing. When you come to a situation that needs correction, you will quickly find that defensiveness will be the greatest barrier to change. And the primary ingredient to defensiveness is offensiveness. The saying is “You can catch more flies with honey.” You better believe it!

Give it a try in your workplace. Show kindness and see how your credibility, reputation, influence, and effectiveness as a leader changes.


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