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Could Compassion Fuel Your Success?

Do you ever wonder if being too kind could be holding you back from success?   Let’s face it – it’s a competitive ‘survival of the fittest’ world out there.  So, could being too understanding and considerate of others leave you standing at the bottom of the career ladder watching others climb to the top?

“Success is often associated with the individualistic idea of only looking out for number one,” explained Chris Kukk, Professor of Political Science and Social Science at Western Connecticut State University, and author of the Compassionate Achiever when I interviewed him recently. “However, even Darwin suggested that the most efficient and effective species have the highest number of sympathetic members.”

Chris suggests that rather than compassion standing in the way, it can actually fuel your success.   For example, a number of studies have found  that compassion not only helps to build your resilience and improve your physical health, but it’s also a consistent characteristic of successful and resilient people.  As a result when your organization has a compassionate culture you’re more likely to be engaged, be innovative, collaborate with others, and perform at your best.

Chris also points out that while compassion is often confused with empathy, they’re not the same neurologically or practically. For example,  when you experience empathy, you understand what the other person is feeling, so if they’re upset or down, you feel sad, and this triggers the same neural pathways as if you are in pain.  Unfortunately, overtime this can drain your energy and motivation.   On the other hand, when you show compassion, you experience feelings of warmth, concern, and care for other’s suffering, and you’re motivated to take action to solve their problems or improve their wellbeing.    This triggers the release of the same types of chemicals that come with feelings of love – oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, that can help you feel optimistic, positive, and primed for achievement.

“You can think of compassion as the Cadillac version of kindness,” explained Chris. “And it can power you along to achieving a life you’re proud of, much more effectively than any short-lived bursts of energy you may get from other motivators of success such as power or money.”

How can you develop more compassion at work?    

Chris has developed a four-step programme for cultivating compassion. This is represented by the acronym L-U-C-A: Listen to learn; Understand to know; Connect to capabilities; and Act to solve.

  • Listen to learn – it’s easy to get caught in the trap of just listening to reply. Listening to learn involves giving someone your full attention, asking questions that strengthen your learning, being comfortable with and appreciating the silences rather than jumping in and trying to finish other’s sentences.  You can learn a lot about what a person is thinking during the silence. Notice their eyes and their body language.  For example, if they’re twitching in their seat or noticing where they look when you ask a question, can help you get clarification on what they are saying.
  • Understand to know – while you may be good at getting the facts you then need to connect these in ways that can help you know what you need to do to respond. When you start connecting the things that people say and putting this in context, you can see things in a broader, more holistic and deeper way.Chris suggests that one way to develop these two skills is to listen to a podcast or radio show by somebody who you know you totally disagree with.  Listen all the way through and lookfor some nugget of truth and understanding in it.  And doing this with others in your team, can help you get to know them better, and build trust.
  • Connect to capabilities – sometimes you may have some of the answers to help somebody, but other times you may not, but your networks do. Look outside yourself to find the people or organizations that can help others overcome their problems.
  • Act to solve – doing whatever you can practically do to take care of someone. Paradoxically this can sometimes mean purposely not doing something to help somebody along.  By stepping back so that they can step up allows them to learn responsibility and resilience in the face of challenges.

What can you do to nurture more compassion in your workplace?

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