Jerry Osteryoung: Kindness does matter in business

March 7, 2014 

"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." -- Henry James

Having written this weekly column for more than a decade, I can tell you that coming up with the concept to write about is normally the largest challenge. With me, I frequently get fired about a topic that I have read or learned about, but sometimes something will directly happen to me that invigorates me to write a column.

With this column, I was pondering on what to write about for three or four days and then we went out to a local restaurant in Tallahassee for dinner Friday. While we were having dinner a man came up and wanted to say hello to me, as I have not seen him or his father in about 5 years. We made the necessary cordial talk, as I was genuinely happy to see him. After he left I commented on what a nice man he is.

Later our waiter came up to us and said that our dinner check had been taken care of, which just floored me as his act of kindness was just not expected in any way. Of course, I knew who did this and was so pleased for his unexpected, incredible act of kindness. It was not so much that he paid for our dinner but that he cared enough to cover the cost.

I think that kindness is just one thing that businesses in general need to adopt into their operations manual.

Spontaneous kindness makes an impact on customers and employees and we cannot forget about the power of this concept.

Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of kindness as "a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern for others."

In the U.K., the third Monday in January is the year's most depressing day according to research. The Sun. a London tabloid, posted a team along the M6 highway on Jan. 21 holding signs telling drivers that the newspaper had paid their tolls.

Another recent research poll showed that the brand attribute customers found important (up by 391% over 3 years) was "kindness and empathy." One researcher, Jamil Zaki said that the latest research is showing that we're nice even to people outside our circle and to those who can't help us in return. Being kind in this manner is incongruent with the traditional thinking by economists and biologist.

A Birmingham, England base ad agency, Smile, always tries to include some form of kindness in all of their interactions. In fact one of their core values is to make someone smile each day.

Some of the acts of kindness that I have seen besides the one that triggered this column are restaurants that send out gift certificates to random customers. A business recognized a person in financial distress and all of the employees worked together to raise more than $5,000 to help this employee.

This research and just good old common sense clearly shows that kindness does matter. It's important to how the outside and staff see your business or organization.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by email at

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