“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” The Tao Te Ching

When I first came across this three-part quote, the second and third parts clicked with me immediately. Somehow, it seemed self-evident that thinking kindly would lead to profound thoughts. Likewise, I felt that one could develop love by reaching out and giving to others in kindness.

However, the first part of the quote, “Kindness in words creates confidence,” slowed me down a bit. Though it did not seem self-evident, I wanted to explore it because confidence is such a wonderful asset in consensus building, persuasion, and all the related communication skills. So I thought about situations in which I have spoken kindly to people, even though their words to me did not seem so kind. My best examples occurred when I have been training groups, and a trainee became “difficult.”

In these classroom situations, I carry a built-in motivation to be kind to the trainees or students. They or their organizations pay good money for my training courses, so I see it as my job to help any trainee who is having difficulty understanding or accepting some part of the subject matter. In other words, it’s my job to be kind even to the most difficult trainee.

Having identified these situations in which I remained kind in the face of unpleasantness, I then reflected on how I felt in those situations, and sure enough, I recalled feelings of confidence. Predictably, that confidence, in turn, always led to good results. In most cases, I was able to resolve the student’s difficulty. In addition, I felt confident that, no matter what the outcome with the difficult student, I was successfully modeling effective communication skills to the rest of the class. Most rewarding of all, these successes have been confirmed in anonymous student evaluations where I have received positive feedback on my non-defensive handling of difficult situations or people.

But as mentioned, it’s relatively easy for me to speak kind words in the classroom setting because of my concept of my job duties. For me the greater temptation to lapse into argument, accusation or anger arises in private settings such as one-on-one conversations with friends. The closer I am to the people involved, the greater the temptation.

Now, inspired by the kindness quote and the mental exercise it led me through, I have a new way of helping myself remain kinder, therefore more confident, and therefore more effective in these private settings. I pause and put myself in a classroom mindset—not to become pedantic or preachy, but rather, to become as helpful as I can to the other person.

Your kindness triggers may be different. You may find that standing up in front of a roomful of people has an adverse effect on your inclination toward kindness. But, somewhere in your life experiences, you will recall situations in which kind words came very easily to you. Perhaps you are naturally kind towards someone who is always kind to you—a grandparent, a good friend, or a sweetheart of a boss. Replay those tapes of your interactions with that person in your mind. Listen to the words you spoke, and feel the confidence flowing through you. Then, when you are confronted with temptation to speak unkindly, pause and put yourself into that past frame of mind and emotion.

There are two caveats:

First, we’re not talking here about sacrificing your own best interests just to get along with someone who is unkind to you. Rather, keep your words kind and respectful as you work to address the interests of both parties—yourself as well as the other person.

Second, don’t confuse kind words with patronizing. If there is something you might say, or a way you might say it, to a child; but you would not use those words or that tone to an adult of your own gender whom you respect; then don’t use those words or that tone to an adult of the opposite gender, nor to an adult you have difficulty respecting.

As you experiment with using kind words in tempting situations and experience the confidence and success this yields, you will find it easier and easier to keep your words kind. In turn, your confidence in using kind words will grow into more effective communications.