Compassion and work may seem incompatible bedfellows in all but a few health or care related professions where compassion is firmly on the agenda. Research increasingly suggests that compassion is a key workplace differentiator, one well worth cultivating. We examine what compassion is and how to develop it at work with our 8 stage checklist.
Compassion At Work: What and Why?
Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our peace and mental stability. It is essential for human survival. Dalai Lama
Compassion and continuous improvement
Defining compassion can be problematic. It isn’t sympathy. It isn’t empathy. It isn’t merely ‘being kind to others. Rinpoche (1992) states: “[Compassion] is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering”. Compassion then, is empathy with action. Noticing another’s suffering and then acting upon that noticing. Case Western Professor, Richard Boyatzis extends the concept of compassion, arguing suffering doesn’t need to be present. Compassion, Boyatwzis argues is about noticing, understanding and then taking action, for example by coaching or developing staff leading to improvement.
Where better to start than at the top of an organisation when modelling compassion. Research by Lilies et al (2011) found that when leaders modelled and reinforced values that encouraged employees to build closer relationships, workplace empathy was increased. The old command and control style of leadership has the opposite effect on workplace engagement. Transformational leadership, associated with empathy and compassion has been associated with a plethora of positive workplace outcomes (Rahman and Castello, 2013).
Compassion at Work Checklist
So how do you build compassion? We’ve worked extensively to develop and build compassion with a number of organisations including the NHS, national charities as well as designing compassion cultivation training for leadership teams in finance. Here’s what we found works to help organisations embrace and embed compassion in a meaningful way. Welcome to our 8 stage checklist.
1. Self Compassion
This is always the starting point when we begin to talk about compassion. It can be difficult to demonstrate compassion to others if you are unable to provide it for yourself. Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading compassion researchers identifies 3 components of self compassion.
1. Understanding that all experience is part of being human
2. Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings
3. Demonstrating non judgement and kindness to yourself
Nerf’s research (2003) found that self compassion is linked to increased resilience and wellbeing. Practices including meditation, mindful self compassion and relaxation techniques are all useful in the development of self compassion.
2.Reflective Practice & Compassion
Reflective practice is also a useful developmental tool. Gibbs model of self reflection is a useful framework for teams. Pendleton’s rules, used primarily in teaching and feedback are also a great tool for guiding self reflection and development. Both models are transferable to a number of organisational settings and industries. Action learning sets also provide an opportunity for professional communities to meet, reflect and problem solve in a more structured setting.
3. Compassionate Leadership
Check that your systems and procedures support compassion. Consider your organisational vision statement, is compassion embedded in it? How about your organisational values? Is compassion explicit? Make sure that your structure, systems, procedures, vision and values are in alignment with a culture of compassion. If they’re not? Remove any existing barriers. Include compassion in organisational artefacts, espoused and core values. Consider including compassionate behaviours in job descriptions and performance indicators. The key is to make them explicit.
4. Modelling Compassion
As a leader it’s key that you model compassionate behaviours (including self compassion). What happens at the top of the organisation filters all the way down to your teams. The work of Boyatzis around ‘Sacrifice Syndrome’ demonstrates what happens when leaders lack self compassion and self care. The rest of the organisation will eventually emulate those behaviours, regarding constant sacrifice and lack of renewal as a badge of honour. The result? One tired and burned out organisation. We’ve seen it and it isn’t pretty. Include the leadership behaviours you want to see in behavioural frameworks, recruitment and induction.
5. Compassionate Coaching & Stress Inoculation
Boyatzis found that coaching others with compassion is good for the coach and the coachee. His research (2013) found that those engaged in compassionate coaching experienced increased resilience and a decreased stress response. Think of compassionate coaching as providing stress inoculation. It’s also a fantastic example of modelling compassionate behaviours in an organisation. Boyatzis demonstrates the benefits of coaching with compassion and building positive emotions in this short video http://goo.gl/jRcVqe
6. Compassionate Culture
To embed compassion in organisational culture, systems and procedures need to be in alignment with your compassion goals. Considering the above points alongside the following suggestions is an effective way to begin to change culture.
The compassion games global movement which takes place 4 times a year. The gameification of compassion is an effective (and fun) way for departments, teams and individuals to take part in compassionate acts and cooperation, reflecting and feeding back to the games. You can find out more about the games here http://www.compassiongames.org
7. Schwartz Rounds & Compassion
The genesis of Schwartz Rounds (sometimes referred to as ‘onion’ rounds) was in healthcare. The round consists of staff members meeting on a regular basis to discuss the emotional impact of their work. Feedback from the NHS has been extremely positive. The Schwartz Round is increasingly being utilised in different organisations to discuss relevant issues and the emotional impact of an individual’s role.
8. Be clear about non compassionate behaviours
Once you’ve looked at self compassion, leadership behaviours and culture it’s important to obtain clarity around non compassionate behaviours. In the same way that you’ve been explicit about compassion, what it is, what it looks like and how you’re going to build it, it’s equally important to define what compassion isn’t. Being clear that bullying, incivility, humiliating staff and perpetuating a blame culture (along with other behaviours) are counter to compassion and need to be challenged. Often we avoid difficult conversations in the workplace, Douglas Stone’s ‘Difficult Conversations’ provides a useful, non blaming and compassionate framework in which to discuss those behaviours.
If you want to audit where you are now take our free compassionate organisation assessment here http://positivechangeguru.com/compassionate-self-assessment/
We’ve designed workplace compassion courses in partnership with NHS consultants. Our courses are delivered by BPS, MAPP, BNA, CPD, CIPD psychologists with extensive experience of working within the healthcare field alongside the NHS, HEE and healthcare organisations. We offer monthly open programmes along with bespoke in house training. For more information and to talk about your needs please contact us or email firstname.lastname@example.org