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How to Lead with a Soft-Heart in the Workplace

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There are so many people who believe it is softness or strength, one or the other, when the truth is, there is so much strength in being soft. But how do we stay soft?
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In my growing experience in the business world, I have found a recurring theme. There is very little patience or tolerance for people who are soft. For some reason, it’s increasingly seen as a weakness; if you are not cutthroat, then you will not make it in insert-your-industry-here.

Employers are seeking workers who have edge and a desire to get ahead of others. Does having a considerate outlook now equate to a negative thing in the workforce?

A close friend and former co-worker of mine was once told by our then boss that she was “too soft” at a job that was no Wall Street type trade, where there might be a premise of professional aggression. I remember my friend confiding in me that it had been a struggle; people she has worked for in the past have thought of her as too soft for the job. I instantly rejected what our boss had said and told her that her softness was a gift, the ability to care deeply is a gift and not to let anyone tell her otherwise.

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This friend is one of the most organized and efficient individuals I have ever worked with. She gets stuff done. But somehow her caring personality was overshadowing her incredible work.

I think often about that particular situation and how our manager, who did not value softness, could write off such a hard worker like her.

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When I was 18 years old I had just started interning for a non-profit when I made a big mistake on something I was working on. The director of the organization, a very wise man in his fifties, called me into his office so we could talk about it. I remember feeling all of my emotions right on the surface as he calmly tried to talk with me. I was (and at times still am) very hard on myself, so during the conversation I felt heavy with remorse. After not getting much response out of me, my boss looked over with a sad smile and asked, “Are you okay?” The tears poured out and I admitted how much pressure I felt to do well in the internship and how bad I felt for my error.

After expressing myself I looked up to find that he, too, had tears in his eyes. He said to me, “You have a really soft heart. A lot of people start out with soft hearts and life turns their hearts hard. A soft heart is a beautiful thing; don’t let the world make your heart hard.”

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Hearing that advice from such an intelligent man, who had seen so much more of life than I had at 18 years old, has always stuck with me. And more than that, it has given me a desire to encourage softness in others when I see it.

There are so many people who believe it is one or the other, softness or strength, when the truth is there is so much strength in being soft.

The ability to go through life without turning cold is tough, and it takes a lot of courage.

Can you forgive those who hurt you? Can you keep seeing the good in people even when they fall short? These are not easy things to continue doing. Softness, as it turns out, isn’t for the weak of heart. It’s for the brave.