Rob WoolleyThe definition of paying-it-forward is the opposite of payback. It is repaying someone’s act of kindness to you by an act of kindness to someone else.

It’s based around the idea that kindness can spread like a contagion infecting individuals and whole communities with a sense of happiness and joy – a lot of smiles! What would that be like?

Some examples we have heard include a teacher, struggling to find time to move a load of stones, had a friend secretly move the stones to her garden. A real estate agent, noticing the lady who lived next door had no means to mow her lawn, came each fortnight to mow her lawn while she was out. Or a friend who when receiving their coffee from the new cafe employee said, “thank you Megan,” to which she responded, “thank you for remembering my name.” I wonder how she felt serving her next customer? How would you have felt giving these acts of kindness?

Paying-it-forward is such a simple idea but it does come with a conundrum – what if the person receiving feels awkward? The saying “it is better to give than receive” hasn’t been around so long because it’s not true. If you’re like me, you will not like receiving free gifts. Whether it’s past disappointments or feeling embarrassed/guilty – what should I give them, did they feel I needed a handout – receiving can be uncomfortable. Occasionally, the person giving is accused of having an ulterior motive, maybe making purposefully or accidentally making the receiver feel indebted. Some believe even receiving praise can be bad for one’s ego – “it’s going to make me big-headed.” Who would have thought giving a gift could be so difficult?

What are your motives for giving? Try as we may, our true intentions shine through. Was this a selfless act, or a selfish act? We are all motivated by many known and unknown forces. If we were to pay forward a cup of coffee, what might have motivated us? Kindness of course. But could it have been trying to impress the staff member, the friend we had coffee with, satisfying a feeling of guilt from some other act that day – it’s often hard to know. However, if we have a sense of community – which many say is in our DNA – we will pay-it-forward because it’s a nice thing to do with no direct benefit, or at least wasn’t our primary reason. Social responsibility is a buzzword these days and many believe business owners have a responsibility to improve society. Many customers want to be part of something good. They choose where they spend their money and if we are creating good in the world, who wouldn’t want to be part of that? This is part of the triple bottom line – making a profit whilst helping people and the planet. How could you do that? Some choose to donate time or resources to good causes. Paying-it-forward is one of those causes.

So, how can we relieve the discomfort of recipients of acts of kindness? How can we prevent some taking advantage of our kind gestures? Imagine the scenario of a cafe employee dealing with the burden of deciding who gets the free coffee? Who shall I give this to, why, when? OMG, what if I forget and the giver asked whether I’d done it? A system that has giver, deliverer, and receiver allows everyone to know their part. Some businesses have this system set up so paying-it-forward is common place. If you give someone receives, the person receiving wants to give and once this is established everyone relaxes and enjoys the benefits. Even those who may initially take advantage will be encouraged to change their ways. As Ghandi said, “be the change you want to in the world.”

In business, we can pay-it-forward or give something extra. We’ve all been at expos where balloons, sweets and trinkets are given away. The cost is so small but the smiles so big. How can we give something extra to our customers? A chocolate bar, mint, paying bills on time, leaving great reviews, or giving something extra can make you stand out and them happy. The last time I visited a florist I paid for flowers but I got flowers, a gift card, a chocolate heart and a knowing wink. Do you think I’ll use them again?

In a capitalist society and dog-eat-dog world, it may feel odd to give something away for nothing away particularly if it’s money – the measure of success. But what would it feel like to do so? Could you change someone’s attitude? Could you change their situation? Could you even change their life? Whether you give advice, product, service or money, consider how you will feel and what you might see? We’re all in it together. The act of paying-it-forward may be the opposite of payback but upon examination both giving and receiving are win situations. In our interconnected world, what goes around, comes around. Pay-it-forward today, it’s good karma!