It’s the season of giving—but not everything we give or receive this time of year is something we want or mean to share. This head cold, for instance. Where did it come from? Who’s going to catch it next? What’s the best way to a) stop the spread of infection and b) enact my revenge on whoever infected me?
Maybe it’s ironic that the holidays are also prime cold and flu season. Or maybe given all the travel and time spent with loved ones, it’s not ironic at all. I don’t know. Talk to me when the meds wear off.
Point is that I have contagions on the brain. Also, in the brain. And if the idea of spreading good stuff while quarantining bad stuff matters to you, my brain thinks your brain will appreciate a recent column in The Washington Post.
The column, which explores psychological insights from researchers at Stanford University, makes the case that acts of human kindness do not necessarily spring from nowhere. Rather, kindness routinely transmits from person to person. People tend to donate more, for example, when they believe the people around them are generous.
Like the common cold, good behavior is a contagion.
This phenomenon has applications outside of charitable giving (or, in the WaPo author’s case, sharing pastries). In the Harvard Business Review, author and Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor writes that the findings above reminded him of a simple and often overlooked truth: “Just as bad behavior tends to spread, so too does good behavior.”
Using a case study from Mercedes-Benz as an example, Taylor goes on to explain how companies can harness the “contagious” nature of good behavior to cultivate positive organizational cultures and stimulate patterns of ethical, service-oriented behavior.
“Almost every leader I know wants his or her colleagues to go above and beyond normal standards of service, to impress customers with their kindness. Many of these leaders also believe that achieving this goal is largely a matter of policies and procedures—kindness as a directive. Actually, the way to unleash kindness in your organization is to treat it like a contagion, and to create the conditions under which everybody catches it.”
Once you recognize the contagious power of kindness, good and ethical behavior becomes easy to practice. Try it out for yourself today. For instance, if you’re not feeling well and think you might get others sick, spread some kindness by not coming into work.