In a previous blog, Empathy versus Sympathy, I explored the distinction and differences between the two.
Hopefully, the notion of being either sympathetic or empathic is now clear!
I then started thinking about compassion and the differences between empathy and compassion.
The more I looked into it the more, using the term ‘versus’ didn’t ring true.
Empathy and compassion are not one or the other.
They both exist at the same time.
It’s almost impossible to be compassionate without being empathic –
How can you be spurred on to help someone if you don’t feel moved by what they are feeling/experiencing?
So, let’s recap what empathy is
The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
And the skills that help you be empathic:
👂 Active listening – listening to understand.
💗 Removing judgement – keeping an open mind and considering others’ perspectives.
👐 Self-awareness – knowing how your emotions affect your manner.
Emotional intelligence – being aware of and in tune with others’ emotions.
With empathy, there is no action that you (the empath) put into motion.
You listen, ask questions, and sometimes just sit with the person giving them the space they need to work out what they want/need to do next.
Compassion takes empathy one step further
Compassion is ‘empathy in action’.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines compassion as:
‘a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck
of others and a wish to help them.’
Compassion is relational, it’s about others and feeling and alleviating their troubles.
So, what actions show true compassion?
Just a few examples…
- Helping someone when they have fallen over in the street.
- Giving up your seat to someone on a train.
- Reaching out and checking in on people.
- Running errands for a neighbour who has just come home from the hospital.
- Recommending a past colleague, who is struggling to find employment, for a job.
You could say these are all everyday examples of acts of kindness, but it takes compassion to recognise and feel the pain of these individuals and then act upon them.
“With compassion, the focus is not just on the problem, but also
on the solution. It’s a more empowered state.”
Thupten Jinpa, a former Tibetan monk, and the official English translator for the Dalai Lama for many years, has spoken about how compassion can be a strength in everyday life and explains that every expression of compassion has three aspects:
- Perception – “I understand the situation/problem”.
- Empathy – “I feel what you feel”.
- Drive or motivation – “I want to help you”.
Why is compassion important in the workplace?
The benefits of employees and leaders being compassionate at work are vast.
→ Compassion promotes healthy interpersonal relationships.
It helps build trust and strong connections so it can be hugely beneficial for teams as well as for the organisation overall.
→ When Employees will feel psychologically safe in a compassionate team, innovation and creativity flourish.
This positively increase employee engagement and loyalty to the organisation.
→ Compassion can also help to reduce anxiety and the performance pressure.
→ For many roles, particularly those driven by targets, compassion will help build resilience to work stress and burnout.
This will positively impact the physical and emotional well-being of employees.
Compassion in the Workplace Model
Roffey Park’s Compassion in the Workplace Model identifies 5 attributes of a compassionate person:
✔ They’re alive to the suffering of others
Being sensitive to the well-being of others and noticing any change in their behaviour. This enables a compassionate person to notice when others need help.
✔ They’re non-judgmental
Not judging but instead validating the person’s experience.
A compassionate person recognises that the experience of a single individual is part of a larger human experience, and it is not a separate event only happening to this person.
✔ They tolerate personal distress
The ability to bear or hold difficult emotions.
Becoming aware of someone’s difficulty may distress a compassionate person but it does not overwhelm them or stop them from being able to act.
✔ They’re empathic
Understanding the sufferer’s pain and feeling it as if it was their own.
✔ They take the appropriate actions
The feeling of empathy encourages the compassionate person to take appropriate action by doing something to help the sufferer.
Customising actions is important here – knowing the right action will depend on how well they know the sufferer.
Compassionate leadership is not just being a compassionate individual and caring for a colleague who is in pain.
As well as being a compassionate person, a compassionate leader encourages compassion in their team and the wider organisation.
They have a desire to create a culture where seeking or providing help to alleviate another’s pain is not just acceptable but is seen as the norm.
A compassionate leader encourages team members and others in the organisation to talk openly about their problems, both personal and workplace.
They act as a role model by showing compassion for others whilst encouraging a culture of openness by being open to sharing their problems, signalling that it is okay to talk about personal difficulties.
In essence, empathy, compassion – it’s not ‘one or the other’.
Compassion comes from empathy and moves it one step further with a motivation to help, to find a solution and relieve the pain of the sufferer.
Compassion is a skill that can be learned.
Being compassionate allows us to have healthier interactions which can make a major difference for the people around us.
The Motivation Agency has been supporting businesses in their employee engagement journey since 2006. Our online course Em-Path Online has been designed by experts in workplace relationships and learning, in collaboration with leaders, managers and frontline colleagues across a variety of industries.
Learning Specialist and e-Learning Developer at The Motivation Agency
Inspired by an early career as Skills and Development Advisor for Costa Coffee, I moved agency side to the role of Learning Specialist. I bring positivity, passion and a fresh perspective, to deliver the very best learning solutions to our clients.