8 Not-Random Acts of Kindness

Easy ways to do well by doing good.

Posted May 02, 2019

MaxPixels, Public Domain
Source: MaxPixels, Public Domain

Random acts of kindness rarely benefit you beyond the good feeling of giving. For example, you put a quarter in a stranger's parking meter just before the meter maid is about to give a ticket. It feels good but it doesn't otherwise benefit you.

The following acts of kindness are more likely to.

Help a coworker. For example, a coworker in a nearby cubicle is struggling with the newly mandated software. You might say something like, “I’ve had a little more practice with this bear. If you’re stuck and need a little help, just yell.”

Ask for help. That may not seem like an act of kindness because you’re clearly benefiting, but asking for help is often perceived by the other person as an act of kindness because you’re admitting that the other person is, in some way, superior to you, which makes him or her feel good.

Write a thank-you or attaboy/girl note. If a coworker, friend, or even your boss does something you think is great, write a brief note to say so, yes, possibly in an email or on social media, but hand-written often feels more personal.

Set up a 3-way introduction. Job candidates have a leg up if they have an “in.” If a job-seeker whom you respect asks for a lead, offer to set-up a three-way coffee or video call of introduction rather than offering the easier but less effective, “Sure, when you see a job opening at my company that you want to apply for, let me know and I’ll forward your resume.” If your small extra effort results in the person getting a job, she'll feel indebted to you far in excess of your effort.

Do an activity with a friend or romantic partner that he likes and you don’t.  Examples: seeing a movie you probably won’t like but she will, cooking a dish that’s difficult to make and that you don’t like much but your partner loves, and, yes, cleaning the toilets for a change. Such an act can launch a virtuous cycle in which your having done something that's self-sacrificing makes the person more likely to do something self-sacrificing for you. Alas, some people are too selfish for that, so beware of always being the giver to an inveterate taker.

Listen without interrupting. I fail miserably at this—I’m just too tempted to jump in with my “pearls.” But for most people, listening is an easy way to make a person feel good about you. Most people appreciate the rare chance to speak at some length without interruption.

Look for opportunities to give earned compliments. That’s another easy way to derive interpersonal benefit in excess of the effort required. Compliments will be especially appreciated if they’re about something the person feels insecure about. For example, if a coworker’s comments at meetings are usually lame but he finally makes a good one, you might say, for example, “I think Robin's point has merit and we might apply it by...” 

Give small gifts. If a coworker did you a favor or had a win, for example, received a promotion or moved to a nicer place, a small, easy-to-get gift such as a single rose or gift-wrapped truffle can yield positive regard without much effort.

For example, one of my hobbies is growing plants from seed. It’s very little additional work for me to plant 20 more seeds than the few I need, so I do so. And then, when they’ve grown into seedlings, on my block’s online forum, I write that I have free plants to give away. I also put seedlings in front of my house with a sign such as, “Free to take: award-winning tomatoes and marigolds.” With minimal effort, that seems to have contributed to my reputation as one of the block’s nice people. Apart from any reputational benefit, I can’t help but think that if I needed a favor from someone—like helping me find my escape-artist doggie Einstein—I’d more likely get someone to divide up the territory to find where my not-Einstein wandered.

So, is there some not-random act of kindness you’d like to bestow? Or at least, might you want to stay vigilant for an opportunity to do one?