We need the compassion and the courage to change the conditions that support our suffering. Those conditions are things like ignorance, bitterness, negligence, clinging, and holding on. Sharon Salzberg
Jane Dutton and Monica Worline’s book on compassion in the workplace, Awakening Compassion at Work, offers a helpful lens in which to think about the significance of our seventh developmental theme of mindful leaders, self-other empathy and compassion. They equate empathy with compassion, the feeling of “suffering with” another person in a way that emotionally connects and elicits a compassionate response. It is important to note that self-compassion is an essential element of empathy and compassion toward others as it is extremely difficult to give to others that which you do not give to yourself.
Dutton and Worline’s research indicates that employees who experience empathy and compassion from managers-leaders and the organizational context via culture, climate, structure, etc. feel seen and affirmed in their pain and thus bounce back more quickly with increasing satisfaction and organizational commitment. Furthermore, employees have more constructive emotions in the workplace while exhibiting more supportive behavior toward other stakeholders. Therefore, the growing empathy and compassion of mindful leaders act as a positive contagion in the workplace on the employee and organizational levels as illustrated in the following narratives.
Another thing is just a kind of emotional empathy. Like I think I’m much better able to read emotional states. I’m still working on that, but a lot of times I can very quickly pick up on, ‘Oh, this person is distraught right now. I can’t really come down on them about some technical question. I need to, like, address their personal issues.’ And, so that empathy is, again, something that builds very naturally. (Male middle manager and professor)
I’ve used mindful self-compassion prior to some very difficult conversations that I’ve had to have with team members. Sometimes performance improvement kinds of conversations. And looking at how can I as a leader be as empathetic as possible when I’m delivering, say, a complaint that’s been shared by a patient or a family member or even an employee to an employee kind of thing. (Male middle manager in the healthcare industry)
It is different now. I mean now, it is part of my life and I have gained so much wisdom along the way and I have noticed so much about myself which helps me see in that in other people. I can see when other people are stuck in the stress cycle and I am not taking it personally. I am able to bring some compassion to them and some kindness and help calm them even though they don’t know I am doing that. So we come to a space where we can problem solve together. (Female entrepreneur and former healthcare senior executive)
Some of us may not view empathy and compassion as significant qualities of organizational managers-leaders or for our workplaces. However, the mindful leaders in my 2015 study, as well as a growing body of research to include the work of Wolin and Dutton, indicate differently. These two lines of scholarship (mindful and compassionate leadership) demonstrate that being able to “stand in another’s shoes” and see as they see and feel as they feel, enhances the subjective states of both the manager-leader and the direct report as it relates to how they feel toward one another and toward their organization. Furthermore, as highlighted above, such positive inner states ripple outward and favorably impact the larger culture, climate, and performance levels.
Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D. Denise offers leader/leadership and organizational coaching and consulting for progressive change agents and organizations. Visit https://metamorphosisconsultation.com/schedule-a-coaching-appointment/ to schedule a FREE 20-30 minutes exploratory session.