The role of kindness and curiosity in the workplace

  • Child Development
  • The Aspen Difference
Kristina Scala

“Be kind” is the one rule that’s guided my company for the past 15 years. Those words are the first thing people see when they walk into our space. We have other values, but kindness comes first. Always.

What is kindness missing?

According to the dictionary, someone who is kind may also be described as sympathetic, helpful, forbearing, affectionate and loving. Each of these traits is a way kindness manifests itself, but it doesn’t end there. Kindness must also include an element of curiosity.

The craving or desire to learn that shows up when people are curious is an antidote to disengagement, apathy and vitriol. These three traits currently plague not only our workplaces but also our communities. Research from Gallup notes that disengagement alone has a real cost to organizations, including higher absenteeism, lower productivity and lower profitability. Loneliness can also have a devastating impact on organizations.

You can spend time dwelling on the effects these feelings could have on your organization. Or, if you’re like me, you can think of the powerful inspiration you create when you operate from a place of kindness and curiosity.

Kindness on the rise

In recent years, business leaders and thought leaders have started talking more about kindness as a crucial part of workplace dynamics. This trend points us in the right direction and gives us something to work toward. Gary Vaynerchuk notes that “genuine kindness is the ultimate strength.” I believe genuine kindness must be expected of all business leaders and entrepreneurs. It creates the snowball necessary for us to thrive — and retain marketable talent — amid the disruption of technology in our workplaces.

Bringing kindness to life everywhere


Kindness can’t just show up as words printed on a wall. Here’s how to bring kindness and curiosity to life.

• Hold everyone in your community in the highest regard, and show it through your language and actions. This will naturally invite curiosity — to respect someone, you must be curious about them. Get to know your team members on a deeper level, and ask about their motivations and interests. You may even discover things you didn’t know you had in common.

• When you’re faced with a difficult conversation, emphasize courage and safe spaces. Lean into these interactions with curiosity and care. In business, it’s all too common to avoid a potential conflict out of fear. By approaching those conversations from a place of civility and respect, you remove some of that fear.

• Assume that people around you are capable and well-intentioned. That will make you more likely to affirm their values and celebrate their potential. Sometimes it takes work to assume the best in others, but if you’re curious, you’ll give yourself the gift of finding out what makes them tick and how you can best leverage their skills.

Is an element of caring, kindness or curiosity alive in your values? If not, identify where could you emphasize these important elements to foster a stronger team and better business outcomes.

Resetting the expectation for kindness and curiosity

I work in the education field. You might think it’s one place where kindness is a crucial universal standard, particularly in the school setting. But you’d be surprised how many parents come for a tour and are surprised to see the “be kind” print on the wall. When I realize that, I cringe: Shouldn’t kindness be the expectation?

In her TED Talk, journalist Celeste Headlee shares her commitment to curiosity: “I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can. I keep my mind open, and I’m always prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed.”

Many of us have probably fallen victim to giving results the highest priority. In reality, by focusing on kindness, we could experience even better results and happier people. Go forth and be kinder and more curious — the world needs it.