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6 Ways to Show Compassion In the Workplace

By Angie Joens

Heart-shaped object resting on glass surrounded by water droplets.

I have a confession—this past week brought me to my knees. Earthquakes, war, wildfires, hurricanes, and oh yes, a pandemic. And that is just the big stuff. Then there is the personal stuff like the anniversary of the day I lost my youngest brother, car problems, and the disappointing news that something I worked really, really hard on was not going to happen. I am not exaggerating when I say that this self-proclaimed optimist was feeling pretty low.

I tried to push it down and keep marching forward. I attempted to ignore it. I told myself and my closest friends that things happen for a reason. But it was a load of crap—big, stinky, make-you-faint crap with a capital C. I was devastated, overwhelmed and sad.

And in the midst of this place I went for a walk and listened to a podcast from Adam Grant about compassion in the workplace. It got me thinking yes that is what I need—I need some compassion, I need to take a sad day. And then I thought—if the boss needs this type of day then so too do my employees.

Adam Grant shared some amazing research on how your emotions affect our jobs and how we feel at work—positive or negative—can be contagious. Our colleagues can pick up on it and it can affect their performance and well-being. I know for a fact that when I am having a bad day it affects others. I am generally “Susie Sunshine” but on the 3-4 days a year I am not —it really bothers people.

So how do we help our employees when they are having tough days or are overwhelmed? How can we create cultures that are compassionate? How can we train our employees and leaders to lead with compassion first? Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  1. Start with Yourself. You cannot be compassionate and caring to others if you do not take care of yourself first. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, if you feel depleted or negative make time to sort this out.

  2. Listen. Listen. Listen. Give people space and time to talk to you about what is troubling them. Do not try to solve their problem just listen without judgement. NOTE—be wary of the “toxic takers” who just want to complain and be negative.

  3. Pay Attention. If you see someone struggling do not ignore it and hope it will go away. Ask them how they are and if you are not comfortable doing it yourself—point it out to someone who will ask. Sometimes just having someone notice that you are not ok is what someone needs you to know.

  4. Know Them. Take time to get to know the people you work with and not just their life at work but their entire life. What makes them laugh? How do they like their coffee? What is their pets name? It is simple really to know people as long as you are curious and caring.

  5. Encourage Others. You do not have to be a supervisor to share a positive thought or recognize great work. Be a cheerleader for your team members even if the achievement is small—progress is progress.

  6. Be thoughtful. Kindness costs almost nothing to the giver but means the world to the receiver of it. Take a new team member out for a cup of coffee so they feel included. Move your meeting outdoors—changing your surroundings can change your attitude. Offer to grab lunch or answer phones for someone on a tight timeline. Forward an email to your boss about something wonderful your team member did.

If you are wondering what more you can do to improve your level of compassion—check out this assessment created by Harvard University. It provides you with an overall score and suggestions on what you can do to be more compassionate. And listen—you do not have to be a leader in the traditional sense to take this assessment. We are all leaders of our own lives and the world needs more compassion these days. What if we all focused on it just a little more than we do now. Imagine what it could mean to our families, our organizations, our friends, our churches/synagogues/temples/mosques, our nation, and yes - even our world.

A little compassion is all I needed to get me through my most recent crappy days. I owned my feelings and realized I was not ok. I emailed my boss and said I need a day. He did not ask for details just responded take what you need. I took my day and gave myself a little grace and luckily for me I got up the next day and felt a bit better.

Compassion—let’s embrace it and put it where it belongs—in the center of our organizations or better yet—in the center of our lives!


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