My first job was at an advertising agency in the city, an hour from the quiet suburb where I lived. Although I was only an intern, I was determined to be perfect. Every night, I would lay out my clothes for the following day and spend hours working ahead, hoping to be deemed a copywriting powerhouse.
I felt what many working women feel. Armed with statistics about glass ceilings, I prepared myself for a life-long fight to be equally valued and compensated for my professional achievements. Everything in me revolted against the idea that I was less powerful and less efficient because I am a woman.
Before I go on, let me say that I do not think my resolve was a negative thing. Women should be aware of the challenges they will inevitably meet throughout their career because of their gender. Further, women should not be pressured to stifle a healthy strong-willed spirit. However, my professional drive had a horrible side effect. I began to view compassion as a weakness, especially in the workplace.
During this time, I’m ashamed to admit how unwilling I became to help others on my team. I was slow to listen and slow to walk alongside my coworkers in their difficulties. Beyond my personal accomplishments, nothing much mattered to me.
What I had yet to learn was that without compassion, communities cannot thrive. As human beings, we all have a deep need to be heard and understood by those around us. That need does not disappear in the workplace. If you are reluctant to let compassion through the office door, here are a few of the reasons why it’s worth taking the leap.
Compassion allows you to learn.
When we commit to caring about the problems coworkers face, we prioritize communication and create an atmosphere of honesty. This enables us to learn truths we might otherwise fail to recognize. Knowing they will be met with compassion, coworkers speak freely about their concerns and current obstacles. By carefully listening and striving to empathize, we can address potential issues, embolden our teammates and obtain a more accurate picture of our organization.
As human beings, we all have a deep need to be heard and understood by those around us. That need does not disappear in the workplace.
Compassion builds trust.
While I worked at the advertising agency, my best friend was admitted to the hospital for what doctors suspected was an aggressive, cancerous tumor. The false image of superiority I had constructed shattered as I became visibly upset in the office. My team leader saw my face and immediately asked me what was wrong and how she could help – even insisting I head to the hospital to support my loved one.
After experiencing her compassion, I trusted my team leader and became motivated by her kindness. I worked harder, developed creative courage and knew I could rely on my manager to share not only victories, but losses.
Compassion prevents transactional relationships.
In the absence of compassion, relationships flatten into anxious, conditional interactions. We become concerned only with what others can provide for us and view success as a personal goal, instead of something we can attain as a group. Quickly, our work begins to suffer. We make selfish decisions and expect others to do the same, leading to personal and collective burnout.
Compassion stops this transactional cycle. Where we may have previously viewed coworkers as assets or liabilities, compassion provides an avenue through which to honor colleagues as people. Accepted as their whole selves, individuals are released from the fear of failure and become excited to share their unique gifts for the common good. As a result, the quality of our work improves, as well as the satisfaction we experience after a job well done.
It’s never too late to change the way you approach your work and professional relationships. Compassionate acts require strength from us and cultivate strength in those around us, fostering an environment of meaningful and communal effort. Today, let’s stop confusing compassion with weakness – in the workplace and elsewhere.