Three ways you can quietly, yet effectively improve culture

A boss’s power is substantial: with a few words or even a look, he or she can make someone feel their job, pay and value is at risk.

It’s harder to improve culture—to create a caring and encouraging work environment—when you have little formal power in the organization.

Three ways to be kind when you have no power

If someone with power over you has treated you rudely, take a slow breath and resolve to try these three simple things:

First: Practice good manners. Manners exist to ease human relations. Saying please and thank you, standing when someone enters the room, opening a door for someone, being on time, and all the things our parents tried to teach us do eventually make a difference. My wife worked at a bank in Berlin where everyone shook hands every morning—an excellent way to smooth ruffled feelings from the day before.

Even if your boss is a boor, you can set a quiet example.

Second: Be kind anonymously. “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” —Amelia Earhart. Yes, Joe or Sally should have cleaned the coffee station, but why don’t you do it anyway? They might not appreciate it, but other people will. Leave a gift on the desk of someone who gave you a hard time this week.

Send HR an anonymous complimentary note about someone. Mail a gift card to a vendor who really came through—but don’t sign the note.

Third: Take an interest. You can’t appreciate someone unless you understand what they do and why they do it. Ask for time to learn what your co-workers really do. (Prepare by clicking through The GMs Index at for context, terms and questions.) Ask how they got into their line of work. Make your purpose only to listen and take notes We’ve met executives who’ve worked in adjacent offices for years not really know what the other department leaders do. No wonder there are silos.

Is work a spiritual practice?

The church, the temple and the mosque encourage—even require—us to be compassionate, patient and forgiving. Even if you’re not religious, you might feel the universe calling you to have the courage to be kind. It’s not easy, but it is worthwhile, for ourselves and the people around us. Kindness is the serious business of life.

Relevant Terms

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