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As the woman who’s made “Be kind to one another” her motto, Ellen DeGeneres has become a role model for good behavior. That’s even more so within the workplace, where she has talked about requesting that her employees adopt the same strategy.
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When asked about reports that suggest she’s less than kind to her co-workers, DeGeneres told The New York Times in a recent interview, “That bugs me if someone is saying that because it’s an outright lie.” She then shared how she encourages everyone who works on her show to navigate the job with kindness.
“The first day I said: ‘The one thing I want is everyone here to be happy and proud of where they work, and if not, don’t work here,’” she said. “No one is going to raise their voice or not be grateful. That’s the rule to this day.”
For DeGeneres, though, kindness might have its limitations. In her interview, she discusses the public’s demand for her to live up to her happy persona even when she’s away from work.
“There’s been times someone wants a picture, and while I’m doing a selfie, they’re like: ‘You’re not dancing!’” DeGeneres said. “Of course I’m not dancing. I’m walking down the street.”
DeGeneres also dissects the price of being the unofficial spokesperson for kindness in her upcoming standup special (her first in 15 years), titled Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable, which comes out on Netflix on December 18.
“A few years ago I started ending by show by saying ‘Be kind to one another,’” she says in the trailer, “But here’s the downside: I can never do anything unkind ever. I shouldn’t even have a horn in my car. If someone cuts me off in a dangerous way, if I honk, they’re like, ‘Ellen?’”
Ignoring that minor downside, Ellen is right that there is actually much reason to be kind — especially in the workplace. “The way we deal with people in the work environment says so much about who we are as a person,” psychologist Dale Atkins, Ph.D., tells Thrive Global.
Decency, respect, consideration, and caring should factor into workplace behavior, but often don’t, Atkins says. “When you feel as if you’re in a place that’s fair and you’re being heard, you do better because you’re recognized.”
As for the idea that being nice can backfire or make you less of a leader, Atkins says not to put much stock in that.
“You can be kind, strong and assertive — they’re not mutually exclusive,” she notes. That philosophy underscores a key cultural value at Thrive Global: compassionate directness. “You don’t have to diminish someone to make your point,” Atkins says.