Yes, You Can Be Kind and Climb the Career Ladder. Here’s How I’ve Done It


Adults can learn a lot by remembering lessons we were taught as kids. We tell our little ones to be nice to others. Yet, as adults, we often forget the power of being kind. It costs you nothing to extend kindness to those you interact with on a daily basis, but gains you immeasurable benefits.

There are a lot of misperceptions about being “nice” or “kind.” I was asked in my Amazon interview in 2005 by a then Jeff Bezos direct, “What is a common misperception about you?” I thought this was a pretty good question since the answer can tell you a lot, including how self-aware people are about themselves and how others view them, which often don’t match. I answered, “Because I am kind, I am a pushover.”

Which, if you know me at all, I am not. My first career was as one of three women in a 60-person litigation group in the world’s largest law firm, Baker & McKenzie, based in Chicago. I am a master negotiator and teach others how to successfully negotiate in a variety of situations—with their kids, in their home, as well as with colleagues, in professional settings.

But being kind served me well across all my roles and responsibilities—whether personal or career related. The trick is do so always; not just when it is easy or when you like the other person. I apply the golden rule and treat others how would I like to be treated, and generally that works.

For my kids, I found a tricky application of this rule comes when how they want to be treated changes as they move through each stage of life. My preteen doesn’t want what my kindergartner did; and my young adult doesn’t want what my teenager did. I learned I need to ask and listen to their cues to know when what was once welcomed might be uncomfortable now or a preference had evolved. And, if I think back real hard, I can remember what I wanted at their ages and generally that is a pretty good guide.

When applying the golden rule doesn’t work, I apply the platinum rule. (We all want to upgrade right?) Treat others the way they want to be treated. This requires me to seek to better understand what the other person wants because clearly it is different from what I would want. I have found this most applicable when people are large degrees of difference from me—like some combination of race, culture, age, educational or life experience.

One of my first management jobs included a team member who was closer in age to my mother and who had an administrative career. I adored her and was anxious to help her advance. I had grand plans and shared them with her. She stopped me short with, “But you didn’t ask me what I wanted?” I hadn’t, and it turns out what she wanted was very different from my vision for her. It was a powerful lesson that changed how I approach management and other key relationships in my life. What I want for someone is not nearly as important as what they want for themselves. And simply because I am well intended doesn’t make up for not asking.

We all want to get results, but how we get them impacts what type of human being we become. And engaging with those on our journey will reveal options and possibilities we never would find on our own.

A huge benefit to being kind consistently is the more you do it, the more you can like who you see in the morning. And when you need help, which you inevitably will, so many are willing to lend you a hand.


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