I was driving to a meeting a few days ago when I noticed a young woman, with two children in the back seat of her car, stopped on the side of road attempting to change a flat tire. Ordinarily, I’d like to think that I would never pass someone by like this without stopping to offer assistance. But not that morning. I was late for an important meeting with a client. Torn between two conflicting values, accountability to my client, or compassion to a stranger, I quickly made the choice to pass by this woman in need. Accountability won out. I kept my commitment to be on time and kept feeling guilty about it all day. I have since come to an important realization: I’m not as compassionate when I’m in hurry.
Over the past few days, I have spent some time researching the effect of hurriedness on one’s level of kindness. What I found is a classic social psychology study, conducted by researchers who were interested in how situations affect people’s helping behaviours. John Darley and Daniel Batson, psychologists from Princeton University, studied a group of theology students who had to listen to a lecture on charity, and who then had to move, one by one, to a nearby building. On the way, they met an accomplice of the experimenters. This person was down on the floor, pretending to have fallen and hurt himself. Most of the students helped him. But when they were pressured and had to hurry from one building to the next, the Good Samaritans among them reduced radically. One of the priests, in his hurry, even stepped over the unfortunate crying actor and headed straight for his destination. We really are not as compassionate when we are in a hurry. We are kinder when we have more time.
One of the indicators of organizational health is kindness. It’s a sign of a healthy environment when people feel cared for, when they feel supported, when they feel acknowledged, respected, and appreciated, even in small ways. How is the level of kindness in your culture? How are hurriedness, pressure, and demands affecting people’s level of compassion? How is the hurriedness, so prevalent in today’s organization life, affecting your culture’s health and the well-being of your workplace?
What if we all slowed down and took time to be kind? Would we actually be less productive if we created a compassionate place to work?