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ATD Blog

How to Manage with Compassion


Mon Jun 01 2015

How to Manage with Compassion

Want loyalty? Manage your people with compassion.

Want engagement? Manage your people with compassion.


Want commitment and dedication? Manage your people with compassion.

Compassion is empathy in action. When you empathize with a person, you enter their world. You put yourself in a position to recognize and relate to their emotions. You attempt to understand their perspective and, as much as possible, attempt to understand what the other person is feeling. But empathy isn’t compassion. I can empathize with a person and still take no action to aid them.

Compassion demands action. When managing people, compassion is one of your most potent weapons. Compassion will cause you to:

  • confront a performance issue directly and guide the individual to resources that could help them explore

  • acknowledge unacceptable conduct (such asethical breach, drug use, or sexual harassment) immediately and implement the prescribed consequences per policy

  • discontinue a product or service when it’s no longer providing its intended value and redeploy affected resources elsewhere

  • ·negotiate adjustments to unrealistic budgets, milestones, and deadlines instead of trying to push your people to their breaking point and beyond

  • proactively identify ways to provide personal care within the workplace environment to help people better manage their lives

  • be flexible with schedules permitting as much self-management as possible within the necessities of the job.

    Compassion doesn’t shirk difficult decisions, conversations, or realities. Instead, compassion embraces them using empathy to navigate a course of action that values the person (or people) involved while addressing the underlying issue(s). Compassion recognizes several factors:

  • We all have struggled, and failed, in some way at some point in time in our lives. And, by grace, we were provided opportunities to overcome those struggles.

  • We all have made commitments that we couldn’t keep for one reason or another. Perhaps we forget to record an entry on our calendar and accidentally double-booked. Perhaps we had a family emergency arise. Perhaps, we were called into a meeting unexpectedly or had a work-related crisis erupt. Regardless of the story, we know what it’s like to have to cancel and what’s it’s like to be cancelled on.

  • We all know what it’s like to reach a point of exhaustion or frustration (or both) and say or do something that was not terribly wise.

  • We all have lives outside of the workplace and sometimes life happens. You plan and you prepare, and then (BOOM!) the pipes burst, you’re in a car accident, or a child gets sick—and you must respond.

  • We all have goals that we are trying to achieve, metrics that we are being measured against, and a definition of success through which we are filtering information. 

    Managing with compassion doesn’t make you weak. Rather, compassion reflects strength of character that will endear you to your people. It turns your attention away from you and your goals and toward others and how you can best help them. It’s no longer about meeting your performance objectives or your goals but about how you can best equip your people to perform their best. You see people as more than just a means to an end. You see them as, well, people.

But you’re also committed to achieving the goals of the company. In some cases, that even means helping the person exit from the company. Assuming you want to begin managing with compassion, where do you start?

  1. Learn your people’s stories. What are their career goals and aspirations? What are their biggest challenges in reaching those goals? What does their best day look like? Their worst day?

  2. Learn how your people experience work (and you). If there was one thing they could change about their job what would it be? What would make work less stressful? What would make work fun? How could you lead them better? What one thing do they wish you would stop doing? Start doing?

  3. Learn how your people experience life. What one thing could the company do to make their life better? What benefits are not valued? 

    These are just a few of the questions that you could use to spark conversation.  All of them seek to understand the employee’s perspective. They are not meant to provide an avenue for arguing your point of view or position or for persuasion. The only language that you used during this conversation is the language of listening. After you listen, reflect on the answers and then determine what actions to take.

Inquire…listen… reflect… act. It’s as simple as it is complex.


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