Professional kindness or professional love?

I recently had the pleasure of having a coffee and a chat with Lisa Cherry on her excellent podcast ‘Trauma, Resonance and Resilience’.  Lisa is an inspiring, experienced and incredibly motivating speaker and trainer. You can check out the podcast here and Lisa’s website is here

I had the unenviable task of attempting to articulating the construct of ‘professional kindness’: in practice with children and families, within teams in the helping professions and in leadership.

Professional kindness draws heavily on the construct of professional love, well-articulated in the extensive work of Dr Jools Page on the subject. Dr Page researches and writes about early years settings and the benefits and challenges of love being inherent in the work of practitioners in nurseries and other early years settings.  Even there, the tensions associated with the use of the word ‘love’ are ever-present.  What if a parent feels I am over-stepping the mark?  Why isn’t the word love used in policies and procedures?  Are there safeguarding implications for going about my professional work with love in mind?

Yet, it’s hard to argue against the need for little children to experience loving interactions when at nursery.  The tensions, while real, seem more about the language used than denying the reality that love in a nursery is needed. 

These tensions, about language, are arguably even problematic when considering other helping professions.  How does a patient experience love from a nurse?  Should a social worker define their relationship with a child in care by using the word ‘love’?  Can a teacher work lovingly with a young person who is struggling?  What about adults? 

Pivoting to the phraseology of ‘professional kindness’ might feel a little easier but risks are prevalent for us there, too.  Does kindness invoke feelings of sympathy?  Is it patronising? 

For my part, while imperfect, the language of ‘professional kindness’ is best I can come up with to describe the expectation that those in the helping professions engage meaningfully, respectfully and with loving humanity when working with children, adults and families.  It only takes a cursory glance at feedback or research about social work intervention, for example, to establish that ‘kindness’ is not the universal experience of children and families.  While, therefore, this all might seem remarkably uncontroversial, there’s evidently more we urgently need to do to explicitly research, discuss and encourage kindness in the helping professions. 

Perhaps a good starting point is looking at our interactions with each other at work.  Are you part of a team that is kind to each other?  Do you recognise and celebrate each other’s successes and achievements?  Are senior leaders approachable and kind?  Do you celebrate birthdays, festivals and milestones with each other?  In beginning by examining team and organisational cultures in this way, we create opportunities to then reflect on our interactions with those that benefit from our intervention. 

Check out the podcast episode here for more!