Working On Compassion

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. – Thomas Merton

How do we build “keen awareness” in our work to get skilled in practicing compassion? Last post I talked about why it’s needed. This post I took my studies to find out how we can work on being more skilled.

I think to start I wanted to know why and what kind of fear is keeping us from being a regular user of compassion. Some of the most common reasons I found were:

  • At work we really worry about it consuming us in non-work matters
  • With compassion creating group conversations around an issue, we fear not being able to stand on our own with disagreements
  • Sometimes, its even hard to see value in using compassion at work; what result can it help drive?
  • A big and unfair perspective, many see compassion as a weakness in others
  • And, sometimes, we’re just uncomfortable with dealing with all those “feels” that come with regular practice of compassion

Our work and personal life flows together, whether we want to admit it or not. If people generally see you as not caring, you will eventually run out of people to lead or connect with in social settings. You’re seen by everyone publicly as someone who cares or doesn’t care about others. Instead of letting our social connections determine that for us, we need to outwardly show it. With our social worlds now invading our work worlds more commonly than ever, compassion is becoming a skill highly sought after in candidates.

Someone who is skilled has many or some of these behaviors you can see, feel, and hear:

  • Outward examples of how they care about all kinds of people
  • Is concerned with not just work related impacts at work, but how it intersects with our personal lives too
  • You can find them at the ready when you need them; they’re helpers and outwardly show a “can do” type of attitude in moments of adversity
  • Is very sympathetic to others hardships and just do not see them as circumstance or fortunate happenings
  • Can relate on anyone’s levels empathetically; not just the pains, but joys too

Unskilled is all of the above in reverse. Someone can be so skilled though, that it becomes something that is overused too and just as damaging as unskilled. They typically will use compassion as a way to just glass over things, to smooth them out in the best interest of harmony over the person. I’ve gotten into trouble overusing this skill a couple times because I made to many concessions. I’ve also made the mistake at getting to close to the person that my objective view of the issue at hand got lost.

Like anything you’re trying to build strength in, you need to practice consistently with purpose and intentionality. I found several common ones we can work on. These can help us overcome that fear, get us to skilled, and even tune in our overuse of compassion.

I’m one that is super quick to answer and it’s hard for me to not just jump right to a solve. When we’re feeling to quick to give an answer, we’re not really listening to learn any more. We’re listening to respond. Simply, don’t offer advice until the person asks you to give it. Or, at least ask permission. The person will tell you if they’re ready enough or not usually. Pausing has a way of letting the emotion settle out. Many times as a best friend or manager of our friend/employee we’re all about being a “solver” of all their problems. We can really be of better service of the person by really understanding the problem by listening to learn.

We would do well to learn from proven teachers and experts on compassion. Case studies are great for helping us understand what someone else in the same position did or learned from before we move in to help. Give yourself some depth with experts in different environments. Maybe one from work you know well that has a proven track record and one from your social circles. The more resources, the better and faster you can learn. I shared one last post this week who was a master at NVC. I learned a lot from studying Marshall B. Rosenberg body of work around NVC.

Lastly, I wanted to address one of the fears above where we might fear falling into a trap of it potentially consuming us in the work of helping others. We don’t want to be a therapist and at times we have our own problems to solve. We can still be brief and still show a lot of compassion. We can do this by just letting people say what’s on their minds and getting all their thoughts out. No judgement. No advice. Just recognize they’re upset. When they start to repeat the same thing over and over again, reflect back what they’ve said so they know where they’re at. They can get lost in their own emotions. You’re there to help them get it out clearly, so they can deal with it. If someone is overdoing it and it’s to emotionally charged, create another meeting kindly letting the person know we need to come back together when its calmer so you can help.

Listening to learn, studying peers or other experts in compassion, and practicing how to strategically set limits to the chats can help you become more skilled. In the coming Monday post we’ll wrap this theme up around compassion by exploring self-compassion. The better you are at practice compassion for yourself, the more useful you will be in helping others. Hope you’ll check it out tomorrow when you’ve got the free time!

Thanks fo reading and I hope you had a great weekend!

✌🏻 Shawn

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