How compassion helps individuals and organisations to thrive

By: Gemma Barnacle

I have made a conscious effort not to reference any theories, models, or frameworks in writing this. In fact, all I offer is my experience. One that, like all experiences, is unique. But maybe (and hopefully!), one that resonates and inspires… I’m sure either way, you will let me know in the comments (cue awkward gulp of trepidation)…

The importance of culture

I don’t need to be in a workplace where everyone and everything is perfect. I wouldn’t be invited into such an organisation, because I myself, am not perfect. Instead, I need to be in a culture where people set an intention to work on imperfections with compassion.

Let me tell you a true story. Recently, during a frustrating situation, a colleague said, “I’m so annoyed that Person A is behaving this way, it’s really unhelpful…” But then came, “I have to remember that I really like Person A and always enjoy their company. We need to find a way to make this work.” This experience taught me a lot about the culture of my team: That it is safe to express frustrations without being judged as rude or The Awkward One. That people who would otherwise only know each other for their work roles, had managed to build a fondness or friendship, and that this was important to them. And that there was a genuine intention to work things out, despite being really frustrated. Wow.

How to know if your team is compassionate

How compassion helps individuals and organisations to thriveGemma Barnacle

It sounds obvious, but to know you have a compassionate team, you need to see compassion demonstrated, not just talked about. Seeing others act compassionately towards themselves and others creates confidence that you too will be treated with compassion. If you’re not seeing compassion in your organisation, there’s a simple way to start to fix this – be compassionate. Out loud! Ask people how they are and listen deeply, be inclusive with your words and actions, and be kind and gentle to yourself and others. The beauty is that compassion knows no hierarchy – you don’t have to be a leader or a manager, or have a degree, or a certain job title to be compassionate. And believe me, it is possible to show compassion ‘up the chain’ to a manager, director or even your CEO, no matter your position.

Top tips

Don’t skip self-compassion; it’s the very foundation you need in order to be compassionate with others.
Practice: Compassion is (in part), a skill, and skills can be acquired and mastered through practice.
Practice gratitude – it will replenish your reserves when you feel your energy for compassion is low.
Remember you are seen. Although it may feel like your small steps won’t make an impact, never forget that your actions are seen. Please be in no doubt that when you demonstrate compassion (including self-compassion!), your actions will empower someone else to do the same. The fact that nobody credited you as inspiring them is irrelevant; the positive chain of events that follow will happen regardless.
Why compassion matters at work

“So what?” I hear you ask. “So what if people are supported or not, or can be themselves or not? They’ll show up and do their job every day regardless. They have done for twenty years!” Well, that depends. Do you work in an organisation that isn’t interested in doing things better? Not interested in innovation, improvement (as well as increasing staff wellbeing and reducing staff sickness absence)? The compassion we show people enables them to access courage that is all pervasive. I imagine it as removing the filter that stops us from saying out loud what we might have in our heads and in our hearts. Voicing those ideas we worried were stupid, suggesting that new client that felt too radical, challenging that deep-rooted logic that no longer serves our team – we can act on all those things and more when the filter is removed, and we feel supported through compassion to be courageous. And in this state, we realise that opportunities are boundless; we allow ourselves to imagine far reaching and truly novel ideas and innovations, and this is one way that individuals and organisations can overcome challenges and truly thrive.

Practical examples of the benefits of compassion

Let’s be practical for a second and talk about real examples of the impact of compassion. Being in a compassionate culture gave me the courage to develop a novel capacity and demand model which ensures that the team is not overstretched and can allocate time to our various commissioners in a fair and transparent way. In turn, this strengthens a sustainable business model so that we can continue to grow and serve our community in new and improved ways for years to come. This would have been difficult as a new member of the team if I felt judged or unsafe to test novel ideas. Seeing others demonstrate compassion for self and others gave me the courage to lead meetings with more listening time, without the fear of being branded ‘not assertive enough’ (and yes, I was once criticised for listening too much in a previous job, so this was a big step for me!). And listening more has unearthed some incredible insights which will undoubtedly inform the business development plan for 2022-23.

Although those actions don’t have an impressions count like in the digital world, and there is no handy like button, I trust that I am seen and that this is making a difference. And if you read this far, I know that you’ve seen me as well, and as simple as my reflections are, I hope that it makes a difference to you too.

I’d like to thank my colleagues at The Innovation Agency Coaching Academy for showing up with compassion every day, and for picking me to be part of their growing team.

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