Dr Stan Steindl
I was at the airport the other day, uncharacteristically early. Very early. In fact, I was there in plenty of time to catch an earlier flight home. The only problem was on this occasion I had a cheap ticket. But I thought, “Why not? I’ll go and see if the help desk can…well…help.”
I shuffled up to the imposing counter and the customer service person peered at me over her glasses. “How can I help you?” I tried to explain my situation but before I finished she was telling me that I have a cheap ticket and they cannot be changed.
I felt a little surge…but then I took a breath and consciously reflected on the situation, and her as a person, just like me, both of us just doing the best we can. I smiled kindly and said, “No, no, I understand. I just thought I would check but I suspected nothing could be done.” She seemed surprised. We nodded and I walked away.
It was less than a minute later that I heard over the load speaker, “Could Dr Steindl please return to the [help desk].” I returned to the desk and the customer service person was much more welcoming. “I changed my mind,” she said, smiling broadly, “We can get you on the earlier flight.”
Why am I telling this little story?
Well, it demonstrates, even in a very small way, the positive effect that acceptance, non-judgment, kindness and, especially, compassion can have on the people around us, often motivating them to do the same.
And this same phenomenon translates to the workplace.
When someone disappoints us, lets us down, makes a mistake or fails us, our natural impulse is to criticise, reprimand or punish them. This is especially the case in the workplace, where managers traditionally use a more punitive approach with their staff. We expect that it will “make them listen” or “teach them a lesson”.
An alternative style of management is emerging, and gathering more and more empirical support. This new style is to adopt compassionate management practices.
Compassion is defined as a combination of several components. There is the awareness component of compassion, being able to notice when another person is distressed, struggling or suffering. There is also the empathy component, or the ability to resonate with that feeling, recognising that distress is an experience we all share. Further, trying to be non-judgmental towards the person who is distressed, and not defining them by the immediate problem, but remembering all that they are as a whole person. And finally, having the intention to do something that will relieve the distress, and nurture or develop that person.
Compassionate management has been found to have significant benefits at work. Managers who are compassionate at work are more likely to have loyal and committed employees. Compassion increases the employee’s willingness to trust their managers. And employees feel increased happiness and well-being, and continue to maintain support for the organisation, even in the face of bad news.
And beware, anger, hostility and aggression from managers have the opposite effect, eroding loyalty, damaging trust and creating stress, thus contributing to far less optimal performance amongst employees.
Greater loyalty, trust, happiness and well-being lead to vastly improved performance on the job and greater corporate success.
Sometimes managers worry: “What if my being more compassionate causes them to think I agree with them, or I’m letting them of the hook, or I’m not holding them accountable?”
But the compassionate manager recognises that disagreeing with someone, giving them corrective feedback or keeping them accountable can all sit very comfortably in the context of compassion. In fact, delivering difficult messages in a compassionate way can actually make it more likely that the employee will listen, rather than delivering difficult messages in an angry way causing them to react defensively or shutting down to the conversation.
The great news is that it’s possible for us all to cultivate more compassion. A number of programs have been developed that aim at cultivating compassion through lived experiences, meditative practices and other techniques. So, why not give it a try? Here are some steps for managers to keep in mind when developing a compassionate approach with employees. Remember the acronym C.A.R.E.:
Create space, calmness and awareness.
- Step out of autopilot and notice your own frustration, anger or whatever your feelings may be. Rather than being reactive, take time to reflect on the kind of compassionate manager you would like to be and create intention to respond according to that.
Activate empathy, understanding and acceptance
- Use careful active listening to aid in your understanding of the person, their concerns and their struggles. Avoid jumping to criticism and reprimand, and instead try to remember the whole person, who they are beyond this current mistake. Try to see the situation from their perspective and think about how you might be helpful.
Reflect on your shared humanity
- Remember that we are all human beings, doing the best we can. All of us have good bits and not so good bits. Forgive them their mistakes, and acknowledge their strengths. Remember your own mistakes and how they helped you to grow.
Enact kindness, care and support
- Don’t crush them further. You don’t need to let them get away with it. But treat them kindly and fairly, help them constructively learn a lesson and inspire them to do better because they know you genuinely care.
Incorporating compassionate management practices into a business creates so many opportunities. Not least, compassionate management makes a positive contribution to people and their well-being. Furthermore, it also benefits the corporate bottom line, making it the secret ingredient to corporate success.
For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit our website www.psychologyconsultants.com.au