“Look, I’ve tried all of your advice on dealing with angry people and nothing works. I’m at the end of my wits, what else can I do?” When, once in a blue moon, I get an e-mail stating something like this I have to access my drawer of secret advice and introduce a radical notion that you’ve all heard before – “just kill them with kindness.”
I want to share with you what I’ve learned about true kindness, why I feel that “killing them with kindness” works like a charm, and why it is also greatly misunderstood to the detriment of everyone involved.
A quick story from my life. During my first few years in real estate, I somehow developed this idea (perhaps thanks to my broker manager) that “the client is always right.” In my head that meant that the client can be moody, pushy, bossy and unreasonable yet I was to respond with kindness, nod my head and agree. After all, all I saw was a big paycheck on their forehead and I was willing to do whatever it took to cash it.
Interestingly, I noticed that the more I “killed them with kindness” the more unreasonable and downright mean they could get in return. Of course I kept smiling, showering compliments and being “interested” in what their pooch chewed on that day.
As weeks dragged on (and my “buyer” wasn’t buying anything) those basic, every day stories would turn mind numbing and I was developing a deep rooted contempt for all the “empty small talk” that I had to engage in. At the end of the day, most folks wasted weeks of my time without putting any offers on the house, and if anyone was slowly being killed it felt like me. Kindness wasn’t working and I was developing more and more anger.
This led to a “novel” conclusion, “Aha, if kindness wasn’t working then I’ll be firm and assertive. I thought now was the time to be a lean, mean selling machine. I studied all possible “objection handlers” that they could throw at me. I mean I had a smart and to the point answer to anything they could possibly bring up during my listing presentation. And you know what, while I felt more in control I was still being killed by the lack of signed sales contracts. Assertiveness alone wasn’t working to put hot dogs and rice on my dinner table either.
As years went by of banging my head against the wall my skull apparently softened and it began to slowly dawn on me… Acting kindly in order to further my goals is totally different than acting kindly in order to further their goals. I noticed that those days when I actually put my interests aside and genuinely cared about their interests things happened. On some deep subconscious level people felt it, opened up, and trusted me 100%. I can only tell you it felt like rainfall in the desert. It was exciting!
Best part, I realized that 90% of the times people are not upset directly at me (even though they may try to take it out on me). People are simply frustrated because they are not getting what they want. I actually stopped trying to change how they felt, it just wasn’t my job anymore. In fact, if I felt their attitude was counterproductive, I would gently but assertively remind them to stay patient and focus on their goal. I slowly learned that most people can even handle criticism, even scolding, as long as you truly hold their best interests in mind.
What is Kindness
First of all, what it isn’t… and that is – weakness. It may feel like showing some “miserable jerk” kindness may appear as a weakness but nothing could be further from the truth. It takes an amazing amount of strength and courage to show kindness to an angry face.
Second, kindness does not mean being soft or always giving people what they want. It’s not our job to please them or smile when they are yelling at us, that is not the point.
Then what does being kind truly mean? In my view it means three things:
- Being patient when people are upset. That means not reacting and allowing them to be upset; ultimately realizing that they have their own valid reason for doing so.
- Understating that all unenlightened beings suffer. They suffer from ignorance, pride, jealousy, confusion, arrogance, inflated ego, each of which is followed by an emotional pain, no matter what the façade they are trying to put out. At the same time, ALL sentient beings want only two things: find happiness and avoid suffering.
- Having an honest assessment of one’s own role in the situation and taking measures to make things right. This means realizing that due to our self-cherishing thoughts and disturbing emotions we may not clearly see (or admit) our role in the conflict. Offering people some “benefit of the doubt” is always a noble gesture.
Why Killing Them with Kinds Works
1. Kill them with kindness and you’ll always win. When we please people in order to get what we want we manipulate them. Sometimes it works but when it doesn’t, it backfires and brings bitterness like: “I helped them with chopping wood last year, but now that it’s time to help me they’re ignoring me, I feel totally abandoned. I hate them.” If we show “kindness” as an investment, we are very likely to be disappointed down the road. When we show kindness from the heart without any secret agenda we’re immediately rewarded on the spot.
2. Kill them with kindness because when you think of their needs you offer a better solution; when you think of your needs you offer a superficial pleasantry and suffer from unfulfilled expectations.
3. Kill them with kindness because most rude people are simply overwhelmed. They can be so caught up in their own needs that they aren’t consciously interacting with what is in front of their nose. In other words, “the lights are on but no one’s home.” By giving them space and treating them with empathy you might bring them into the moment and help them consider a broader perspective.
4. Kill them with kindness because one of the most powerful laws in the universe is reciprocation. Like attracts like. When kindness is reciprocated you earn double merit points.
5. Kill them with kindness because it is like extending a lotus flower to a raging lion. When genuinely hopeless types experience kindness they don’t know how to deal with it and often simply leave you alone.
6. Kill them with kindness because this is the only true shortcut to extinguishing any conflict you’re faced with.
Wait, What If They Are Totally Unreasonable?
But what to do if you are dealing with a totally unreasonable person, aka – a complete idiot? Do you also kill them with kindness? Wouldn’t they be taking advantage of you? As someone distinctly English once asked, “Wouldn’t they think I’m their blood Muppet?”
Yes and No. Dharma says all mental constructs are a projection of our mind. “Unreasonable” is a label we chose for someone who’s acting against our interest or our individual understanding of “common sense.” For example, one man that I mentored told me how his wife was totally unreasonable by insisting that their home had to be clean and all the dishes washed before they left the house, even if that meant running late for the Led Zeppelin concert. In his mind that behavior was mad and totally unreasonable. On the surface, that is indeed a rather an odd behavior but I knew there was a good reason for it. As he dug deeper he learned something very interesting about his wife. Apparently, she had a deep rooted fear that her mother-in-law might stop by while they’re gone and discover a messy house. Due to various reasons (that are too many to mention here) she was absolutely terrified of any criticism from her mother-in-law, who happens to be a real clean freak herself. Reasonable? Not so much. Understandable? Heck, yeh!
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” – Mother Teresa
At the end of the day, we must be wise in determining whether someone is trying to maliciously take advantage and steal from us (in which case we distance ourselves) or someone is simply hiding something from us, in which case we dig deeper, attempt to uncover the reason and go from there.
Finally, I always remember this advice from my teacher. When asked what to do with hopeless types, he says “Distance yourself, wish them happiness and hope they are reborn very far from you in the next life.”
Realize that the change in attitude inside of you won’t happen over night. Heck, I’ll admit that I am still somewhat struggling with this. At first, my ego was totally freaking out as this “kindness” approach is a bit against “common sense” but now this attitude kicks in more and more. That is because experience proves that this seems to be the most effective method indeed.
“Savor kindness because cruelty is always possible later.” – Jenny Holzer