Is your ability to have compassion for your colleagues hurting you?
Some of you have told me that when you show you care for others in the workplace, you become drained of energy. You discover you are the “go-to” person when problems arise or when people need a shoulder to cry on.
Others have told me it is hard to make tough decisions that could negatively affect others, and still feel compassionate.
If either of these situations hit close to home, don’t blame it on compassion.
Blame it on poor boundaries and a misunderstanding of what compassion really is.
Do you need to stop showing others you care? Not at all.
But when I talk about compassion in the workplace, a lot of people bristle and throw words like “soppy,” and “gutless” around.
“We had a ‘fluffy’ CEO,” said one manager. “Everyone loved him. But he could never make the tough decisions we needed in order to hold people accountable.”
Others roll their eyes and tell me that when they show compassion, an endless stream of needy people line up at the office door for counseling, advice, and a sympathetic ear.
“I’m absolutely spent,” said Jan. “People have so many problems and see me as a mentor. I can be there for them because I listen well and really care about the people here. But it seems like when one problem disappears, another arrives, and they are back at my door the next week with something else.”
However, compassion is anything but gutless or fluffy. And it is not being the “therapist on call.”
True compassion takes great courage to embody – and it’s vital to good leadership.
Compassion means to hold others with positive intent, to feel concern for their well-being.
It does not mean to be on call to fix others’ problems. And it doesn’t mean avoiding making the right decisions even though some may not like how it affects them. It simply means that you need to care about others and hold them in positive light.
So what does compassion really look like in the workplace? And how do you practice it?
Here is a quick checklist for you to sharpen your ability to show compassion and keep healthy boundaries:
1. When others bring you their problems, ask yourself the following:
a. Am I the right person to address this problem?
People may come to you because you have an ability to listen and sift through problems. However, the issue they bring to you might belong in another office. Is the problem of a work nature, and if so, who is the right decision-maker that can help them resolve it? Is the problem of a personal nature, and thus better discussed with those parties directly involved, or with a counselor? Begin to triage in this way so that you can redirect as appropriate.
b. Is the person bringing me the problem asking for help in solving it?
Sometimes, people just want a sympathetic ear. However, if you have someone who continues to come to you about a particular problem because you are good listener, you may want to ask them what they want to do about the situation. People can develop a chronic need for sympathy.
c. And finally, fixing others’ problems for them when they should be stretching their problem-solving skills doesn’t help them to grow.
Allow your employees and colleagues to “adult” by taking a coaching approach. Learn to ask them questions, such as, “How do you feel this should be handled? What possible solutions have you thought about?”
Then, if they are still stumped and you are the appropriate party to help them address the problem, help them to brainstorm with more possibilities, if needed.
2. Holding people accountable is compassionate and, you might say, the ultimate way to love others.
Confronting the tough stuff that holds your employees back will allow them to grow into more of their potential, be a greater contributor to their team, and thus support the enterprise more effectively. And that means that everybody wins.
3. Making tough decisions that may adversely affect some of your employees doesn’t mean you don’t care about them.
It means you ultimately care about everyone. Supporting a healthy enterprise provides good and meaningful work for the people who work there. Pleasing some people to the exclusion of the current and future health of the organization means hurting everyone.
Where in your practice of compassion do you need to recalibrate?
DO OTHERS REALLY TRUST YOU?
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.