Being kind

Recently in a workshop on supervision, I asked some new practitioners what their ideal supervisor would be like. ‘Kind’ was the first reply.

I consider that a bit more kindness in social care could help us all feel better and make more progress.

The word kind is linked to Old English gecynd, meaning nature, offspring, race. It relates to two important concepts: being natural and being alike.

Using our innate humanity to relate to others is a central part of social work and social care. Social care is a human service, and so it begins and ends with a human encounter. The context in which these encounters take place, however, can make it difficult to create relationships that allow them to be effective. There is a great deal of work to do, limited time and resource, the need for business systems and processes to make the work possible, and constant pressure to do better.

Kindness helps to overcome some of these contextual obstacles by making the encounter more meaningful. Ruch writes that the ‘relationship is not only the medium but part of the message’ (Relationship-Based Social Work, ed Ruch et al, 2010, page 15). The nature of the relationship affects the outcome of the encounter and the experience of the people involved. I take that to mean that we need to be kind both because kindness supports a useful encounter and because without kindness the message can do harm.

How kind we are affects how our message is received – we are more likely to take something on board if it comes from someone who acts as if they understand something of our situation and has some common concerns. This might mean a supervisor who shows genuine interest in their supervisee and willingness to work with them to achieve a common purpose. Or a leader who visits their staff and listens to them, and endeavours to link their vision with staff values.

My aunt, who happens to be a nun, has a maxim for deciding on whether to say something: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If it isn’t all three, then there is a good case for not saying it. Some of the debates in social care at the moment are heated; rightly people care a great deal about the subjects and the outcomes. However, maybe the outcomes and our experience will be better if the message is kind.