Look up the word “kindness” in the dictionary and you’ll likely see, “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.”

But kindness is so much more than its textbook definition. Here at Connecticut Children’s, we go beyond imagination to cultivate a culture of kindness, every day, in everything we do. What does that mean, and what does that look like when it comes to treating kids and connecting with families? Bob Duncan, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Kindness Officer, has a lot to share. Read below the fold for more.

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Q: Why is a culture of kindness so important? Why in a health system especially?

A: At the end of the day, life is tough. We’re all busy doing important things and we never know just what someone is dealing with and what a difference kindness can make in their life—and in your life—by giving that kindness.

When I think of the children and families we serve, we know they often come to us scared and uncertain. I often put myself in our kids’ shoes: there are machines and people all around them—in an unfamiliar setting. It’s amazing what an ounce of kindness can do to change that perspective.

Our team members here at Connecticut Children’s work extremely hard to take care of everyone. Like our patient families, they have also experienced some difficult times. This is why kindness goes both ways.

Q: What does kindness look like for the patients and families we serve at Connecticut Children’s? 

A: We’re here, now, in the present with our patient families, no matter what. We take time to listen and understand. We come from a place of curiosity and willingness to help, and encourage families to ask questions, too, because they should be able to see Connecticut Children’s as a safe space to do so.

When we first see patient families, we go beyond acknowledging them: we say hello, engage in conversation and get to know them on a personal level. That may look like asking a child what their favorite sports team or character is, or what their hobbies are. A simple, “How can I make you feel better today?” or, “How can I help ease your fears?” can also make a world of difference to kids and parents, respectively.

Then, it’s important to really listen and understand what they are saying back to you—and continue to stay present with them. Connect with them without distractions so they know they are in the hands of a team committed to them.

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Being intentional about wanting to be kind can really reawaken kindness. If kindness is at the top of your mind, you’ll hopefully think and behave differently despite everything around you.

Bob Duncan,
Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Kindness Officer, Connecticut Children's

Q: Why is the role of Chief Kindness Officer (CKO) meaningful to you?

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Connecticut Children’s

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Connecticut Children’s

A: I know the impact kindness has had in my life, both in my career and personally. I’ve met people who were kind to me, especially when I needed advice or encouragement.

When I think about the outlook it’s given me, it makes me want to pay it forward to others.

Kindness builds confidence and a sense of trust. When you have that trust and vulnerability to know you can be you, it all goes a long way.

Q: As both Chief Operating Officer (COO) and CKO, you wear many hats! If you had to pick one accomplishment related to kindness, what are you most proud of and why? 

A: A long time ago at a different organization, I once had to ask an employee to leave—someone who worked hard for years and did amazing things. It was a long story, and not an easy one, but circumstances changed which impacted their performance in patient care. I had to make the difficult decision for them to part ways.

As I was having the conversation, I asked if they were doing ok. I acknowledged what was happening was difficult—and encouraged them to get the help they needed. [I tried to be as kind as possible.]

The silver lining? Three years later, the individual called me out of the blue to thank me. They were in a better place and said the best thing to ever happen to them was the conversation from that day. They said to me, “You were the first and only person at the time that recognized [I was going through an incredibly difficult situation]. Because of that conversation, I got help and I’m a better person today.” They cried tears of joy.

This ended up being a life-changing experience for the positive. I was grateful for having been kind to them and having had the opportunity to impact a chapter in their life.

Q: We like to believe everyone has kindness inside, but what happens when that kindness goes dormant? 

A: 99.9 percent of people have kindness in them—especially in pediatric healthcare. It’s life: we all get busy with work, personal matters and everything else around us. When kindness goes “dormant,” it’s the result of all of the above and the external environment overwhelming us—and

A young boy holding flowers

 suddenly it becomes “ok” to put kindness on the backburner.

But I think being intentional about wanting to be kind can really reawaken kindness. If kindness is at the top of your mind, you’ll hopefully think and behave differently despite everything around you.

I’ll give a real-life example: I’m new to Connecticut and driving on the highways here is not always fun. Instead of partaking in the feelings that come with bumper-to-bumper traffic, I think, “How can I react differently that may change my day and the [other driver’s] day? How can I change my lens and focus of issues that arise on the road?” And no, nothing good has ever come out of rubbing someone’s bumper!

Q: Is kindness really contagious? 

A: The science will tell you it is true; kindness is contagious. When someone does something nice for you, like paying for your coffee, what does it make you want to do? It makes you want to express gratitude and also pay it forward and do something nice for someone else.

Kindness floods your body with a kind of adrenaline, for you and for those who witness it in action. It gives everyone a good feeling. The more random acts of kindness that occur, the more contagious kindness becomes.   

Q: How can kindness get us through some of the best of times? The most challenging of times? 

A: Kindness truly demonstrates and brings out the human good in all of us—no matter what is going on in the world.

When challenging times arise, we need to have kindness at the forefront more than ever. We must support, encourage and be there for each other and make a valiant effort never to waiver in our commitment to that.  

>Related: Navigate Challenging Times, and Thrive

Q: With kindness in mind, please fill in the blank: “To me, beyond imagination means _____________.”

A: Changing the world for the better, one person at a time.
As Connecticut’s only health system 100% dedicated to kids, we strive to create an environment where we all feel respected, a sense of belonging, and empowered to be the best we can be in service to our mission and each other.

That’s why we ask for your help in continuing our culture of Kindness.