by Chee Wen Qi on

“Don’t be a Karen.”

How often have you seen or heard this phrase recently?

With apologies to people who actually have that name, a “Karen” is a common stereotype, originating from the US, of a white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others, often minorities. Kind of like this.

But entitled behaviour isn’t restricted by nationality, race or gender. As long as there is a power differential in place, such self-serving behaviour is likely to surface.

This is especially true in the business world where roles and responsibilities are clearly defined by position and rank, and where people play politics to gain power over others.

I am a client so I have my rights

Bound to have unreasonable clients in workplace culture
Image source: Shutterstock / Pingun

Everyone has a story of an unreasonable client.

I personally have heard stories of clients who feel the need to make derogatory remarks in a simple job request. That is totally uncalled for.

I want to be clear: It is not wrong for a paying client to expect quality work done effectively and speedily. After all, it is work, and efficiency and profitability are top priorities in the world of business.

What I do want to caution against, is the way results are demanded. A client may pay a vendor, but that doesn’t mean he owns him. Similarly, a boss may pay his employees, but that doesn’t mean he has the right to abuse them.

That entitled mindset that assumes money gives anyone the right to disregard basic respect for a fellow human being must go.

Unkindness causes inefficiency

There is a mutually beneficial link between kindness and workplace culture
Image source: Shutterstock / PongMoji

The common argument I hear is that business is business, and no one has the time to be kind, especially when being mean gets the job done faster: “Being kind isn’t going to put food on the table.”

I disagree. Studies have shown that that is a mutually beneficial link between kindness and business.

But there’s a simpler reason: Nastiness gets people upset.

When that happens, employee morale falls, which in turn brings down efficiency, albeit slowly but surely.

Like this account from a friend who had to work overtime during Chinese New Year at his client’s office: “The client company was having its celebration in the office. It would have been nice if they extended their invitation to us as vendors so that we can take a break from the long working hours but no. Not even an offer of a drink.”

Or this anecdote that someone shared with me: “Everything we are asked to do must be done immediately. If we are one day late, they ask you to explain why. They call us once a week to demand results even after we explain that there are delays due to unforeseen circumstances, especially during Covid.

“Sometimes I just want to tell them that the world does not revolve around them and that our only job is to please them. The constant chasing without understanding our situation just illustrates how self-entitled they are.”

If people can take a more considerate approach and not only look out for their own interests, it would make all our lives easier and happier.

Unkindness can breed unkindness as it clouds the human mind. Would you go the extra mile for someone who is constantly yelling at you? Would you even have the bandwidth to think of providing greater help and support if you’re constantly being pestered with unreasonable demands?

How can the business of kindness work?

Let kindness be part of our workplace culture
Image source: Shutterstock / Markik

Studies have shown that kindness and performance are not mutually exclusive. Practising kindness and graciousness at work can lead to better performance and profitability.

So the question we need to ask is how can we buy into this idea and how can your organisation embrace this?

It definitely will be easier when such values come from the top. Having these traits embodied by the executives in the C-suite will translate into more fulfilling working relationships and a more motivated workforce.

At the individual level, it is all about communication. Not pointless discussions that only go in circles but a proper dialogue, a two-way process that clarifies expectations and debunks assumptions.

Civility is key. You can be forceful without showing frustration. You can be strong without being sarcastic. You can disagree respectfully. Kindness is not weakness. And you can certainly be a boss without being bossy.

After all, would you like to be the one on the receiving end of such nastiness?

We may not be able to change our jobs or job scopes, but we can change the way we work and how we interact with our colleagues.

Be mindful if you find yourself demonstrating an attitude of entitlement. Being in a position of authority doesn’t give you the right to treat those under you badly.

To sum it up, listen to the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who inspired millions of Indians and led India to independence with his method of nonviolent resistance:

“Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviour. Keep your behaviour positive, because your behaviour becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”

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