Compassion may be defined as recognising that others are suffering and committing to help them.
Researchers believe that we evolved to be compassionate because it helped us survive. Groups who were most altruistic and compassionate appeared stronger and kept each other safe.
Today compassion still appears to be beneficial, especially in our work environment. Organisations with a culture of compassion appear to have less burnout, display more teamwork, and have more satisfied employees and customers.
Being compassionate is also good for our bodies. Compassion releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel happier and more optimistic. Being happier and optimistic provides us with an advantage at work, in health, with our families and within our communities. For more about the advantages of being happy you may wish to read Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.
Compassionate employees focus on supporting others, which lowers blood pressure, stress, and depression, while boosting self-esteem. Compassion also make us more resilient to stress. When work becomes stressful it is the compassionate employees who are better able to stay calm and engaged.
“Compassion is the foundation for success,” writes Christopher Kukk author of The Compassionate Achiever: How Helping Others Fuels Success, “Compassionate achievers challenge the notion that you have to look out for number one in order to be number one.”
Practical Ways to Cultivate Compassion at Work
Kukk suggests that when someone at works comes to you with a problem, these steps will assist in showing compassion.
1. Active Listening. Active listening shows respect and concern. Don’t defend your point of view or come up with a clever response; instead, truly hear what the other person is saying. Put your work aside and your cell phone away, and focus all your attention on your colleague.
After listening paraphrase what they have just said to make sure you heard accurately and that you understand their concern or problem.
If there’s a lull in conversation, resist the urge to fill it. Silence allows time to reflect on what you have just heard, and can communicate meaning. Silence also allows your colleague to gather their thoughts and proceed with expressing their feelings.
Research suggests that the more you understand what someone is saying, the more your brain response mirrors theirs. When this happens, communication is smooth, both people feel like they are on the same wavelength.
2. Understand what options can help. After you have listened to your colleague in need, process the information you have heard. Ensure you understand the facts and what your colleague is thinking and feeling about the problem. Understanding emotions attaching to a problem is very insightful. Does your colleague seem open and ready to brainstorm solutions? Are they closed off and defensive, convinced that they are right? Are they feeling overwhelmed and helpless?
Your colleague’s mindset will determine the most helpful response, which may include: asking more questions that could lead to a resolution, offering a suggestion, or providing encouragement and a morale boost.
3. Suggest Resources. Once you have some sense of the most helpful response, provide your colleague with some resources that may help. This may include the contact details for professional assistance such as a counsellor, psychologist, lawyer etc.
If you find you get stuck with providing assistance, Kukk suggests try swapping perspectives. For example, if you are a manager, coach, parent and an artist, you may get stuck when you look at your colleague’s problem from a manager’s perspective, but can identify a solution from a parent’s perspective.
4. Take action toward a solution. When we act with compassion, we feel responsible for helping others, and when we feel more responsible, we are more persistent. Persistence allows us to overcome any fear, uncertainty, or doubt we may be feeling, such as Is it my place to help? What if I make things worse? Wouldn’t they be better off asking someone else? In these situations Kukk says, the best attitude to cultivate is one of realistic optimism being to believe you can be helpful, but to clearly understand potential obstacles and how they might be handled. What form of assistance is appropriate is highly dependent on the situation, including what kind of help is desired and what capabilities you have.
One of the trickiest parts of helping, Kukk says, is resisting the urge to fix people’s problems for them, particularly if you are in a position of authority. Instead, Kukk suggests stepping back, offering advice, and then letting your colleague succeed on their own.
Kukk says the four-step formula may feel mechanical at first, but will help us to cultivate a broader habit and mindset of compassion. Practicing the above four steps allows us to become better are exercising compassion. Compassionate action impacts those around us in a positive way, creating a productivity-boosting culture of cooperation and kindness. Further, applying these same principles beyond our workplace interactions, assists in the compassion we can show to our loved ones and within our communities.
The Art of Happiness at Work by the Dali Lama shows us how to place our working lives into the context of our lives as a whole, and shows us how important compassion is both within the workplace and outside of the workplace. A wonderful read for anyone interested in exploring ways to increase compassion towards one self, and towards others.