Business and compassion are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, the most successful people I know have compassion. Before we get too far, yes, I am using the word compassion. Not empathy. Compassion.
Let’s take a look at the two words:
Compassion: Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others
Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another
Empathy expresses understanding and sharing of feelings; compassion shows concern.
Empathy matters because it affords us a way to connect to our fellow human beings. Empathy is literally putting ourselves in the shoes of others so that we understand what they are experiencing. In truth, empathy is a precursor to compassion. We cannot have compassion without first understanding what we are concerned for.
So why does compassion matter in business?
Because we are human and humans are designed to connect.
My youngest son recently had a very bad fall that resulted in a concussion. The side effects were impaired vision, dizziness, severe headaches, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound and vomiting. Thankfully the doctors did not detect anything more than a concussion, but a concussion alone is still something very serious.
In pure, modern form, I shared this with my social media friends (Facebook to be exact). The outpour of love was wonderful. Friends offered prayer. Some offered to help me if I needed anything. Others offered kind words of support. Compassion poured out of my cell phone screen, into my heart, mind, body and soul. I felt surrounded by love. The fear I had dissipated. I felt strong because of the compassion shown towards me and my son.
In stark contrast was an interaction I had with a business associate. We were closing a joint project when this happened. Although I expressed what I was going through personally, the associate acted as though I said nothing. A simple, “I hope he is ok” was all they texted me, followed by straight-laced business talk. Via email, they made a request for my portion of the project we were working, but failed to ask about my child. Unfortunately, my child had an episode at school that required me to arrange to have him picked up. Though I shared this with my associate I received radio silence.
Considering our working proximity, it would go to figure that my associate would have at least shown empathy. But they did not. And because they failed to express empathy, they failed to express compassion. And because they failed to express compassion, I have ended our business relationship.
If my associate were to have expressed even a little bit of concern for my son, I would not have felt dismissed and unvalued. Neither of these emotions are favorable for an effective work environment.
Empathy and compassion go a long way when interacting with people. People crave belonging and to be understood. Both empathy and compassion fulfill those needs.
In business, if you want repeat customers, dedicated employees or die hard fans, you cannot compromise compassion.
Is there a cap on compassion? Certainly. A business must still function, however a drop of compassion goes a long way. Just like adding water to the last few drops of liquid hand soap gives us more use, adding a few drops of compassion give leaders more clout.
Expressing compassion doesn’t have to be a daunting or laborious task. Here are a few simple expressions of compassion:
1. Send a Text: A few friends (not even my closes) sent me text messages just to make sure I was ok. Two minutes out of their day put them in a different light amongst my friends. They took time to check on me and my child – that is significant in the age of busy-ness.
2. Reorganize Your Message: This is a small thing but goes a long way. Instead of putting expressions of concern at the close of your message, put them at the top. This let’s the reader know that you care about them as a person, not just the task at hand. End your message with one sentence to reiterate, “I care about you and your situation.”
3. Give Someone Time: If someone is going through a difficult situation, GIVE THEM TIME! Extend the deadline. Let them take a day off without logging it. Move someone else to the project. Show compassion towards what they are going through and give them time to tend to it. You will have a more dedicated and engaged employee afterwards.
4. Pray: It is amazing what the simple six words, “I’ll keep you in my prayers” can do for someone. Even a person who practices no religion, finds comfort in those words during challenging times. If you know the person is a praying person, stop what you are doing and pray with them in the moment. Stand in the gap.
5. Ask How You Can Help: There might not be anything you can do, but the simple fact that you ask goes a long way. Sometimes people just need to feel propped up by the idea that they are not alone in their situation. Provide them the prop. Offer them support.
6. Listen: If an employee calls into work because they are going through something serious, listen to them. If a friend rants in a text, listen to them. When they are done. Let them know that you heard them and you are there for them if they need.
Compassion doesn’t cost anything. It might require strategic thinking to get a task done, but a good leader embraces those types of challenges.
Don’t burn bridges by failing to show compassion when it matters. Be a wise leader – learn how to be empathetic to cover your bases, then master the art of compassion to dominate the field.
We want “it” badly. We emphatically believe that having “it” will change our lives drastically. We dream of “it” frequently, fantasizing about what we will do when we have “it.” And then, we get “it.”
Elation rushes through our body. A smile plasters our face. Our minds are blown that we finally have “it.” We praise God for “it,” thanking Him for answering our prayers. We share the news with everyone we know.
For a while we are happy. Time passes however and the joy we felt for “it” is gone. The newness wears off. “It” becomes normal and sure enough “it” is replaced by “IT.”
Sound familiar. It is what psychologists call the Hedonic Treadmill or hedonic adaptation. It is how psychologist describe the we treat happiness, suggesting the following cycle: desire -> work towards desire -> obtain desire -> increased happiness because you obtained desire -> adapt to new way of life because of obtaining desire -> enter new desire -> repeat cycle.
We often believe happiness is found in increased pay, more stuff, job promotion, changed living situation, and other external factors. This is not to say that desiring more is wrong but it is to say that fixating on external factors to make us happy is dangerous.
When people stay on this cycle of always wanting, they never truly feel happy because they are always wanting more. They rarely feel satisfied because they are focused on next instead of now. In a Pew Research of various countries in 2014, it was noted that when the surveyor asked the participant if they were having a good day, more people in the poor countries said yes, over those in wealthy countries. That is certainly a phenomenon worth noting.
So, what can you do to avoid a dangerous trip on the Hedonic Treadmill?
1. Focus on Relationships
The more you can build positive, supportive relationships, the better perspective you can have. Relationships are the backbone to who we are. We rely on our network of friends and family to be our rock. Focus on the beauty in your relationships and nurture them. Steer clear of comparing yourself to those you build relationships with. Enjoy each other’s company and relish in what you both are going through in life.
2. Focus on Being Grateful
Research over the past couple of decades has shown us that the more gratitude we routinely express, the healthier and happier we are. Keep a daily record of what you are grateful for. Intentionally share what you are grateful for with others and encourage them to do the same. Emotions are contagious, so share a good one.
3. Focus on Being Present
Oh boy do I struggle with this one. One of my Gallup Strengths is “futuristic,” so my mind loves going to the future and hanging out there. The danger in this however is that I sometimes miss what is right in front of me, what I have now. Dream so that you are motivated to act on your dreams; but bring yourself back to reality and acknowledge the amazing things in your life at that moment. Difficulty finding amazing things? Reel yourself into being grateful for the journey.
4. Focus on the Journey
If your plan is to live a long life, strap in for the ride. There will be wins and losses you will go through. Take time to appreciate them all. Strive towards the goals you desire and enjoy the journey of getting to them. Enjoy the ups and downs. Enjoy the uncertainties. Enjoy the failures. Enjoy the celebrations. Take life as it comes but always remember it is a journey.
You deserve to be happy – no doubt about it. I simply caution you to remain aware of how you position happiness. Is it dependent upon someone? Is it tied to an event? Are you relying on something else to be the catalyst to your happiness? Once you obtain it, will it truly make you happy or will you adapt and get stuck and become a catatonic zombie on the Hedonic Treadmill?