A Practical Guide to Hacking Compassion in the Workplace, Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed compassion in the workplace. Here in Part 2, we’ll explore the 9 Pillars Of Workplace Compassion.

1. Self Compassion

Compassion that does not include the self is not compassion.

We cannot give what we do not have. That is true of compassion as well. Self-compassion is simply our ability to be kind to ourselves. Self-compassion is different from self-pity. Whereas self-pity holds you back from growth, self-compassion gives you the freedom to soar.

Self-compassion is not only practicing kindness to our mind states, but also to our physical well-being. A first step to becoming compassionate to ourselves is to pause and notice our own suffering, and recognize and accept this as a part of our human condition. This recognition – that we deserve love and happiness, and that we need to be kind to ourselves for this to happen – is the foundation of self-compassion. One useful technique to practice self-compassion is to develop a verbal cue that reminds us to stop the cycle of negative thoughts and offer ourselves love and kindness. Another technique is to remind ourselves on a regular basis where we stand in the bigger perspective of life. Also essential is taking time off for oneself, step away from our roles as problem-solvers, and allow the body and mind to rejuvenate and heal. Mindfulness skills can help with mental shifts and help us stay rooted in the present.

2. People First

“Great leaders are willing to sacrifice the numbers to save the people. Poor leaders sacrifice the people to save the numbers.” – Simon Sinek

“People-first” thinking acknowledges that people are the most important assets for an organization. It entails a genuine commitment from an organization to nurture its employees, even if it means deprioritizing profit-based functioning.

People-first thinking is based on trust. In caring for its employees and providing them opportunities for personal and professional growth, an organization will inevitably achieve other parameters of success, such as productivity, profitability, improved customer care and innovation.

It is important for organizations to demonstrate people-first thinking in action. Employees feel valued in the workplace by how organizations respond to their everyday challenges and life changes. Organizations can demonstrate their people-first position by ensuing that their employees are treated with dignity and respect (e.g., during downsizing, or by managing workplace transgressions with kindness, by providing opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and by making sure their employees ‘feel heard.’)

People-first thinking creates loyalty and improves retention. The social currency generated by people-first thinking helps attract quality talent. Customer care experiences are enriched when companies prioritize their people over short-term gains.

3. Abundance Mindset

“The key to abundance is meeting limited circumstances with unlimited thoughts.” – Marianne Williamson

To live the abundance mindset is to know that the universe has enough to give for everyone, and that we can afford to be fearlessly generous with skills and things we have.

People who live the abundance mindset in the workplace are not afraid to share credit or praise, and are not jealous of the success of their peers. If they are in managerial roles, they are comfortable enabling the success of the people they manage.

The hallmarks of the abundance mindset are a sense of inner security and the ability to take the long-term view. Abundance-minded people can embrace competition and risk and are ready to enable others. Under the leadership of people who subscribe to abundance, employees are more innovative, happy, and, in turn, more productive and loyal to their organizations.

While organizations can provide physical resources, the shift from scarcity to abundance is largely an internal exercise. Organizations can help foster the abundance mindset in their employees by recognizing and empowering those who demonstrate abundance thinking, by valuing ‘win-win’ more than ‘I-win’ outcomes, by shifting focus from material rewards to non-material rewards, by creating environments where sharing and communication are actively encouraged.

4. Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” – Sylvia Boorstein

Mindfulness stems from a realization that we have no control over our past and future, and that our only reality is our present. When we place our awareness in the present, we become aware of our own challenges and choices. We also become aware of the challenges and choices of those around us. This helps us respond to ourselves and others with more consideration and compassion.

Mindfulness helps build perspective. When we are mindful of our own challenges and those around us, we tend to be less judgmental in our words and actions. This can create a ripple effect throughout an organization.

Mindfulness, like all compassion skills, is a habit that is cultivated by intent and practice. A simple exercise to practice awareness is to pause briefly before challenging situations to reinforce our intention to create happy outcomes for everyone involved. Another could be taking short intervals throughout the day to focus on breathing as a way of grounding oneself and to step away from internal dialogues of conflict and divisiveness. Organizations can incorporate educational workshops, talks and technologies as part of their efforts to create mindfulness.

5. Embracing ‘Oneness’

“You can then feel the same life deep within every other human and every other creature. You look beyond the veil of form and separation. This is the realization of oneness. This is love.” – Eckhart Tolle

As companies become more and more diverse, it is critical for organizations to stay unified in vision and purpose to be successful. This requires that organizations invest in creating opportunities to bridge cultural, language, social and other barriers. Oneness is being able to look beyond our differences and recognizing our shared humanity. It is being able to acknowledge the shared struggles that we face and overcome in the workplace and elsewhere. Oneness is knowing that irrespective of our physical and intellectual attributes, we are connected by a simple shared desire for happiness.

When we develop the mindset of oneness, we overcome fear of diversity and create a culture of inclusiveness. Organizations can encourage the spirit of oneness by encouraging open communication and feedback. Encouraging employees to find common social causes and volunteering activities unites people. Also recognizing and celebrating religious and cultural uniqueness and creating educational approaches to recognizing diversity can help with creating a mindset of oneness.

6. Fearless Vulnerability

“Communication is so much better when people are vulnerable.” – A. J. McLean

Being fearlessly vulnerable is saying: “I too am human. I do not know everything. I am not afraid to own my mistakes. The mistakes I make are opportunities for growth.”

This is a particularly valuable trait for leaders. Many leaders feel that admitting vulnerability makes them be perceived as weak or incompetent. Invulnerability is a difficult image to upkeep, and often blocks leaders from being authentic in their leadership.

A more realistic messaging is: “I am always doing my best, I am always growing from my mistakes, and I am not afraid to grow.” Acknowledging that you do not know everything creates the platform to learn new things, and therefore to foster innovation and creativity in the organization. Fearless vulnerability opens up opportunities for dialogue and collaboration.

It is important to realize that vulnerability is an exercise in courage and not an excuse to make mistakes or promulgate incompetency. When leadership can model this trait of vulnerability with an intent of authenticity and growth, it gives permission to their reports to be honest and sincere in their own actions.

7. Thinking Big-Picture

“To be a good citizen, it’s important to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see the big picture. If everything you see is rooted in your own identity, that becomes difficult or impossible.” – Eli Pariser

In times of challenge or stress, even small issues can appear disproportionately big. Under this mindset it is easy to make the wrong choices or retreat into inaction. Big picture thinking allows us to put our challenges and the challenges of those around us in perspective. Big picture thinking is an excellent antidote to anxiety.

To create the skill of big picture thinking, it helps to ask some simple, honest questions: “How big really is this challenge that I am facing?” “What is the role of my current challenge in the larger context of my values and life-goals?” “What if this challenge is an opportunity for growth?”

By contrasting our immediate challenges with the bigger context of our living, we disempower fear, anger, hate and other negativities that tie us down. When challenges no longer disproportionately magnified in our minds, forgiveness of self and others becomes easier.

Big picture thinkers are knowledge seekers and deep thinkers. Successful leaders who have the capacity to think big picture are more people-centric and are generally more successful in their leadership roles.

8. Gratitude

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace to our today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

Gratitude is an essential happiness tool. Making a habit of reflecting on our blessings can create powerful mental shifts. Research shows that even a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. Gratitude helps with improved mental and physical health, enhances empathy and builds relationships.

When we take stock of all the things we are blessed with, we shift our focus from scarcity to abundance.

It is important not only to feel gratitude but to express it with sincerity. When we express gratitude to our peers or reports, we make them feel valued as human beings and encourage them to shine. Organizations that choose to facilitate gratitude habits and inculcate them as part of their work culture experience increases in loyalty and productivity. For example, creating gratitude events or enabling a forum to thank colleagues openly can help reinforce the organization’s commitment to creating a culture of gratitude. People who are grateful for their peers are more sensitive to their challenges, and so are able to respond with compassion.

Gratitude is a skill that resonates far beyond the workplace.

9. The Platinum Rule

“Treat others the way they want to be treated.” – Tony Alessandra

The platinum rule is a slight improvement of the golden rule, which is to treat people as we would like to be treated. The platinum rule simply acknowledges that other’s preferences may be different from our own.

The platinum rule is a simple yardstick for practicing workplace compassion. Following the platinum rule requires that we are mindful and respectful of our colleagues’ emotions and expectations. There are several common expectations that show up in the workplace. Everyone wants to be heard, treated with respect, valued for their contributions, provided opportunities for personal and professional growth, and provided a happy work environment. Conversely, no one wants to be a victim of gossip, experience constant conflict, be discriminated against or abused. In our interactions with colleagues, especially our reports, if we take a moment to pause and ask, “How does this person want to be treated? What can I do that will empower him or her in the long run?” it creates a platform on which healthy discussions can happen.

It may not always be possible to treat everyone as they want to be treated. However, our efforts to treat others with sensitivity and fairness will make a positive difference to us and the people we work with.

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