What Are Compassion Skills? (With Examples)

By Natalie Briggs - Mar. 4, 2021

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Compassion is part of what makes us human. What sets us apart from the other animals populating the planet is our instinct to help one another. We see a struggle, and we provide a helping hand. Societies cannot function as a whole without compassion, and the same goes for the micro societies we call workplaces.

Compassion is often used interchangeably with empathy and sympathy. There is an important distinction to be made. Empathy is our ability to feel others’ emotions as our own, often referred to as “putting yourself in their shoes.”

However, unlike empathy, compassion calls for us to act. Not only do we feel the pain of others, but we take actions to alleviate it because we know just how bad it can feel. We know the negative emotions others are feeling, and we do everything in our power to put an end to those feelings.

Compassion is a leadership skill that is essential for obtaining workplace success, as it can help us make tough decisions, earn the trust and respect of our coworkers, create a positive work environment, and show our team members that we care about their wellbeing.

When in a position of power, it can be easy for us to focus purely on the statistics — productivity levels, key performance indicators, deliverables, etc. — but remembering that there are real, live people making up a workplace is what makes the difference between a cold, unfeeling boss, and an admirable, approachable leader.

What Are Compassion Skills and Why Are They Important?

Compassion skills are our ability to recognize the emotions of others and act on them.

For example, being compassionate means being able to realize when a colleague is becoming overwhelmed and assigning someone to help them complete their tasks. These skills can be especially useful, even if you don’t have a job that helps people directly.

Workplaces can be seen as tough, unforgiving environments, which can cause resentment between coworkers and lead to an “every man for himself” attitude.

This only makes teamwork more difficult. A compassionate leader can put an end to this by reminding their coworkers that they want them to succeed and make it easier for them to do so.

Doing this leads to a workplace that is focused on helping one another, rather than one centered around competition. When we help one another, we are far more productive in the long run.

Furthermore, having a little help makes us feel a sense of belonging, as the people around us want to support us, and we want to support them in turn.

By setting the example, your team will become more compassionate towards one another, leading to a healthier, more productive work environment. Your workers will feel more supported in their position, knowing that their leader has their back.

They will become more ambitious and more productive, wanting to give you their best work. Because of this, compassion is crucial for developing a healthy management style.

How to Be a Compassionate Leader

In short, compassion is seeing those around you as human beings, who share the same emotions as you. Plenty of us want to be compassionate but are not entirely sure how to go about becoming compassionate, especially when it seems to come so easily to others.

Here are some skills you can use to show your team members that you are a compassionate leader that they can trust:

  • Asking questions. Asking your coworkers, “how’s your day going?” may seem like an obligatory nicety, but it can be an easy way for you to get a feel for their struggles.

    Asking questions like, “is there anything you need help with?” shows that you care about their success and want to help out where you can. It also helps show them that you are concerned for them, instead of just being a boss that only cares about the work they produce.

  • Listening to the answers. Showing someone that you are interested in what they have to say is a great way to show compassion and respect. Show them that you are not just asking for the sake of asking, but you are genuinely interested in their answer.

    This is an easy way to show your team members that you are there to help and that you care about their wellbeing.

  • Being flexible. If a team member comes to you with an issue, offer help where you can. Recognize the vulnerable position they have put themselves in by asking for help, and respect it by offering solutions to their issue.

    For example, if a coworker expresses difficulty with meeting deadlines, ask them if it would be helpful to have an extra day or two to complete the task, or if assigning someone to help them would make it easier to meet the deadline.

    While it may seem like a hit to productivity, allowing a little flexibility where you can makes your team members want to help you out, as you have helped them.

  • Being open to ideas. Your workers are intelligent, capable people, and you can show them you know this by being open to their ideas.

    When one is suggested, recognize it as a good idea, thank them for the suggestion, and consider putting it into place. This shows that you appreciate their input, and also that you believe their contributions matter and make the workplace better.

    It also allows them to feel powerful in their position, rather than subordinate to you. They will be more eager to provide good work if they believe they are making a meaningful contribution, instead of just doing as they are told.

  • If you can’t help, tell them so. Rather than simply telling them “no,” an explanation can help lessen the sting of rejection. If you are unable to help them, tell them so and explain why you cannot help them.

    “I’d like to help you, but…” is a simple way to start. This tells your workers that you would help them if you could, and increases the likelihood that they will come to you again in the future when they need help.

How to Improve Compassion Skills

Compassion is like a muscle – it requires training and practice to grow. The only way you can improve your compassion skills is to work on them.

Luckily, most of the work you need to do is done internally, at your own pace. If you want to become a more compassionate leader and worker, here are a few ways to help you improve your compassion skills:

  • Follow the golden rule. We’ve all heard the phrase “treat others as you would like to be treated,” and the golden rule still applies outside of elementary school.

    Treating others as you would like to be treated starts with recognizing your feelings and pointing out to yourself where you would like help.

    Once you have noticed your struggles, it will be easier to notice the same struggles in others and provide the help that you would have liked to get.

  • Practice self-compassion. It can be hard to be nice to others when we’re not nice to ourselves. If we make a mistake and criticize ourselves, we are more likely to react the same way when others make a mistake.

    Relieving yourself of some blame and criticism is a great way to be nicer to others, as it shows you, first hand, how far a little kindness can go towards making someone feel better. And you are far more likely to let someone else off the hook if you can first do the same for yourself.

  • Practice empathy. For some of us, being empathetic can be seen as a weakness. But, instead of pushing down our feelings of empathy, recognizing them makes us better people.

    It is natural for humans to feel empathy, and it does not reflect poorly on you. Quite the opposite. Allowing yourself to care for your fellow man will make being compassionate all the easier.

    You can start with baby steps. One example is with the evening news. Feeling bad for those who may be the victims of political circumstances or a natural disaster can help you be more kind to those struggling right in front of you.

  • Recognize how compassion makes you feel. When you do something to help out someone else, take a moment to revel in the feeling of doing a good deed. Often, compassionate acts leave everyone feeling a little bit better.

    There is nothing wrong with feeling a sense of pride after doing something nice for someone else. Think of it as your reward for making life easier for your team members.

    After all, you’re more likely to practice compassion if you let it make you feel good. So let yourself feel a little like the hero.

Final Thoughts

Compassion is necessary when dealing with other people, in any context, but especially so when dealing with coworkers and team members. You all have a task to complete together, and lending a helping hand to a colleague in need is the perfect way to strengthen relationships and aid in getting tasks done faster.

Compassion is the ultimate team-building activity and only serves to make work a more enjoyable place.

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Natalie Briggs

Natalie is a writer for Zippia with a passion for research and storytelling. She is a graduate of Lake Forest College and holds a degree in both English and French.

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