Compassion

Each day I get an email from Gratefulness.org giving me a quote on a reason to be grateful I can't remember when or why I signed up for them but I enjoy them and often they have some linkage to whatever I happen to be working on.

A few days ago, (21 December) Gratefulness.org invited readers to 'rededicate ourselves to our vision of a peaceful, thriving, and sustainable world … One way we can do this is with practices which connect us to our core values, reminding us to live them – as best we can – in all areas of our lives. In this spirit, we invite you to join us this holiday season in lighting candles for 12 days to illuminate our individual and collective connection to the values of Grateful Living.'

Curious, I looked at the list of the 12 values. December 23 was 'compassion' which piqued my interest. It's a word, or maybe even a value, I've noticed that is creeping into organisational usage.

Huffington Post, for example, offers us 10 Principles for Designing a Mindful and Compassionate Organization. They are all laudable principles. You can't really argue with 'Use Constraints Appropriately: Whether explicit or implicit, organizational policies (design principles, meeting protocols, governance procedures, etc.) should be a help, not a hindrance.' But perhaps easier to say than to do.

Greater Good has developed a quiz to help you diagnose whether you work in a compassionate organisation That struck me as odd. If you are in a compassionate organisation wouldn't you know it without taking a quiz to find out? However, I then guessed that it might be less for the individual employee and more for the researchers to aggregate the data and discover whether there are any patterns or trends in organisational compassion. As they say, 'A new field of research is suggesting that when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line.'

This 'new field of research' is gaining ground. Harvard Business Review, in an article Why Compassion Is a Better Managerial Tactic than Toughness (May 2015) links readers to several studies all suggesting (with some variations on what 'compassionate' means) that 'The more compassionate response will get you more powerful results'.

In an earlier (2004) article, Compassion in Organisational Life, University of Michigan researchers explore compassion in organizations. They 'discuss the prevalence and costs of pain in organizational life, and identify compassion as an important process that can occur in response to suffering. At the individual level, compassion takes place through three sub-processes: noticing another's pain, experiencing an emotional reaction to the pain, and acting in response to the pain.

The authors build on this framework to argue that 'organizational compassion exists when members of a system collectively notice, feel, and respond to pain experienced by members of that system. These processes become collective as features of an organization's context legitimate them within the organization, propagate them among organizational members, and coordinate them across individuals.'

In a beautifully understated and cautiously academic way they too find that compassionate organisations bring overall individual and collective benefits, among them 'we expect that developing a capacity for the processes of organizational compassion is likely to increase, rather than reduce, an organization's resilience.'

For organisations worried about bullying, harassment, well-being, stress, staff turnover, and other symptoms of individual and collective distress, fostering and enabling individual and collective compassion in organisations would be helpful. (Even without these symptoms compassion is a value worth nurturing).

If you're wondering how to nurture compassion in yourself or your organisation take a look at the Charter for Compassion's tool kit. It's designed to build compassionate communities and you can see the list of participating cities who have committed to building them. Another learning path is offered by Stanford's Medical School Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Training who offer an 8-week training and also a downloadable e-book that gives preliminary background reading.

Do you think compassion is an organisational value worth fostering? Let me know.

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