In times of crisis and social upheaval, compassionate leadership can unite us as people, like the glue that holds us together in times of upheaval. Without them, we become lonely people facing challenges alone. At Project Potential, we've been researching compassionate leadership for ten years and have helped thousands of leaders become more compassionate. In this work, we are faced with a great challenge: leaders confuse empathy with compassion.
The dark side of empathy
Empathy is an important emotion that is central to human connection. It is the spark that can ignite compassion. But alone, without compassion, empathy is a danger to leaders. As contradictory as it may seem, the reason is simple: empathy is the brain's tendency to identify with those who are close to us: close people, relatives or close relatives. And when we stand in solidarity with those close to us, those who are not close or different seem threatening. Left unchecked, empathy can create more division than unity.
Empathy and compassion are very different things. They are represented in different areas of the brain. With empathy we join the suffering of others who are suffering but cannot really help. With compassion, we move away from the emotion of empathy and ask ourselves, "How can we help?" Identifying the differences between empathy and compassion is essential for leaders to inspire others and lead effectively. Keep these four key points in mind when showing compassion, not empathy, to your employees.
1. Empathy is impulsive. Compassion is intentional.
Empathy is seen as the reflexive and automatic part of our psychology, originating in the emotional centers of the brain. Empathic feelings, thoughts, and choices are mostly generated on a subconscious level, which means we make those decisions less and less consciously.
Compassion is considered the reflective and conscious part of our psychology, originating in the cognitive centers of the brain. Compassionate feelings, thoughts, and choices pass through the filters of consciousness, which means we can weigh, reflect, and improve choices.
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2. Empathy is divisive. compassion connects.
Empathy is the tendency to share the suffering of others, especially those close to us. But empathy is limited. When it comes to helping "strangers" in pain, our brains take note.hard work and refuse effort. While our instinct is to support and protect our ingroup, we may perceive strangers as part of an outgroup and a threat to our social identity. a recentfor studyfound that the empathy evoked by social connections makes us more likely to dehumanize people who are seen as members of an outgroup. In extreme cases, empathy can fuel a dislike for those who are different from us.
Compassion is holding on to the suffering of others, regardless of their social or personal identity. It is the perspective that in every suffering there is a common humanity: the realization that regardless of a person's cultural background, sexual orientation, or age, you are just like that other person in that moment. Compassionate leaders work to overcome their unconscious biases and see everyone in the organization as equally valuable. Managers encourage thisAttitudes of virtue and altruismthroughout the organization, for all people.
3. Empathy is slow. Compassion is active.
While empathy can be good at first, it can also make you feel trapped. Because you share the suffering of others but do nothing to solve or fix the problem, your empathy can turn into rumination about the problem. People who are prone to empathic responses are also more likely to do so.experience depressive symptoms.
Compassion, on the other hand, is more constructive. It begins with empathy and then turns outward with the intention of helping. With compassion, leaders make a conscious decision to translate emotions into action. And in doing so, compassionate leaders are seen asstronger and more competent, able to make decisions and get things done. And compassion in an organization triggers other positive outcomes: better team collaboration, trust, and loyalty.
4. Empathy is exhausting. Compassion is regenerative.
The sense of someone else's suffering disappears over time. When empathy is triggered in the face of another person's struggles, it can lead to a relentless onslaught of negative emotions and experiences that, over time, can deplete our cognitive resources and affect our mental well-being.
Because compassion is intentional and solution-oriented, focused on how to help another person while actively considering various trade-offs, it is restorative rather than comprehensive. And when we give that help, we get it.added bonus of a dopamine hit. Helping is nice and we are motivated to do it again in the future.
Compassion Can Be Developed: Findings from 15,000 Leaders
For leaders, compassion is clearly a better option than empathy. And since compassion is not a knee-jerk, purely emotional response, it can be trained and developed just like any other leadership skill. In our work with clients, we witness and support great examples of compassionate leadership at global organizations like IKEA, Unilever, Cisco, and Marriott.
In addition to our clients' work, we've collected compassion data from 15,000 leaders around the world, the largest global sample of compassionate leadership to date. The data includes self-reported attitudes and internal states of executives from nearly 100 countries and more than 5,000 companies.
One of the key takeaways from the data is that a regular routine of mindfulness, or another contemplative practice, is one of the best ways to increase compassion. Mindfulness generally makes people more confident. With heightened self-awareness, leaders approach a problem with more determination and better consider how they respond to others. Mindfulness supports conscious and constructive decision-making that distinguishes compassion from empathy.
If you think you might have room for more compassion in your leadership, here are some things you can do:
· have more self-pity: True compassion for others begins with having compassion for yourself. When you are overwhelmed and out of balance, it is impossible to help others find balance. Self-compassion involves getting a good night's sleep and taking breaks throughout the day. For many leaders, self-compassion means breaking with obsessive self-criticism. Stop criticizing yourself for what you could have done differently or better. Instead, cultivate a positive self-talk. Then reframe setbacks as learning experiences. What will you do differently in the future?
· check your intention: Get used to checking your intentions before meeting other people. Put yourself in their place. Considering your reality, ask yourself: How can I best benefit this person or people?
· Adopt a daily practice of compassion.: Compassion is a trainable skill. Our brains have an incredible level of neuroplasticity, which means that whatever state of mind you develop can become stronger and more pronounced. here is oneApplicationthis can help you rewire your thoughts toward greater compassion in your leadership.
As you explore this new leadership territory in the coming months, remember this: Be thoughtful, unifying, active, and regenerative. In a world of confusion and division, learning to choose and actively practicing compassion is a path forward, an active statement of what you stand for, and a visible witness to the world you choose to live in.
Contributors: Nick Hobson and Paula Kelley:
Nick Hobson:Nick Hobson, PhD is the Director of Behavioral Sciences and Data for Project Potential and aBehavioral Design Strategistfor leading organizations and brands.
paula kelly:Paula Kelley is a director of lead marketing and a former executive at Deloitte, Citi and BNY Mellon.
Why is compassion better than empathy? ›
With empathy, we join the suffering of others who suffer, but stop short of actually helping. With compassion, we take a step away from the emotion of empathy and ask ourselves 'how can we help? '.Why is compassion important to humanity? ›
Research is showing that people who are kind and compassionate are more satisfied with their lives, have better physical and mental health, and have stronger relationships. Being kind and compassionate can help other people, and make you feel good too.How does compassion make us better humans? ›
Compassion is shown to improve health and wellness because of its ability to drive meaningful interactions. It pushes us to address inequality, cruelty, and the struggles of others. It encourages us to be kind. It allows us to see others and how we can help them or hold space for them.What are 3 examples of compassion? ›
Giving up a seat to a pregnant woman, being polite to retail workers, helping your friend move, taking a second to listen at work — compassion takes many forms.Why is it good to be compassionate? ›
Compassion helps us connect with others, mend relationships, and move forward while fostering emotional intelligence and well-being. Compassion takes empathy one step further because it harbors a desire for all people to be free from suffering, and it's imbued with a desire to help.Why is compassion the most important virtue? ›
Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues. Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts and pains of another.What does compassion for humanity mean? ›
One of the most important elements of self-compassion is the recognition of our shared humanity. Compassion is, by definition, relational. Compassion literally means “to suffer with,” which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering.What is compassion versus empathy? ›
Empathy is feeling another person's pain, whereas compassion is taking action to relieve the suffering of others. Learn more about the difference between compassion vs. empathy and how to exhibit both in your everyday life.Do humans need compassion to survive? ›
It is not surprising that compassion is a natural tendency since it is essential for human survival.What is the value of compassion? ›
The value of compassion enables us to understand ourselves better and others better, and the more we understand others the more we will want to relieve their suffering. Let's all develop the ability to see things from someone else's perspective and sympathize with their emotions.
Is compassion the basis of humanity? ›
Compassion is a feeling, an emotion that arises when we are confronted with another's sufferings and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. It is the language of God that ultimately guides us in fulfilling our duties towards mankind in the best possible manner.Is compassion a human value? ›
Compassion is one of the core values of the Mutual Learning approach. Compassion means temporarily suspending judgment so that you can appreciate others' perspectives or situations when they are different from your own. To be compassionate you need to be genuinely concerned about the other person or people's needs.What are the 5 elements of compassion? ›
Following consolidation of existing definitions, we propose that compassion consists of five elements: recognizing suffering, understanding the universality of human suffering, feeling for the person suffering, tolerating uncomfortable feelings, and motivation to act/acting to alleviate suffering.What is the golden rule of compassion? ›
The golden rule, a commonality throughout religion and guiding force for compassion, "asks you to look into your own heart, discover what gives you pain, and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anyone else." It's tricky, because each situation and individual must be evaluated ...What is the impact of compassion? ›
Results: Serial mediation analyses showed that compassion from others was associated positively with self-compassion, which was, in turn, linked to greater resilience and consequently lower levels of psychological distress and higher levels of flourishing and meaning in life.What are the four most important virtues? ›
Foremost among the moral virtues stand four key virtues, the cardinal virtues, the cornerstone of Aristotle's moral framework: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. According to Aristotle, possessing these virtues makes a person good, happy, and flourishing.What are the four most important moral virtues? ›
Plato is usually credited with describing what later came to be known as the 'cardinal virtues',* designated as such from the Latin word cardo which means 'hinge'. The four virtues named here, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, are said to 'turn around the whole of a virtuous life'.What are points about compassion? ›
Qualities of compassion are patience and wisdom; kindness and perseverance; warmth and resolve. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. Expression of compassion is prone to be hierarchical, paternalistic, and controlling in responses.What are the four forms of compassion? ›
They concluded that compassion entails five elements that apply to the self or others: 1) recognising suffering, 2) understanding the universality of suffering in human experience, 3) feeling for the person suffering and emotionally connecting with their distress, 4) tolerating any uncomfortable feelings aroused (e.g., ...What does caring for humanity mean? ›
As human beings we each have a responsibility to Care For Humanity. Expressing concern for others brings inner strength and deep satisfaction. As social animals, human beings need friendship, but friendship doesn't come from wealth and power, but from showing compassion and concern for others.
What is humanity and empathy? ›
Being empathetic means thinking further beyond ourselves and our own concerns. It shows our ability to put ourselves in another person's position to feel what they are experiencing. Empathy appears to have its origin in the German word 'Einfulung' which literally means 'feeling within'.Can you be compassion without empathy? ›
In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy as a result of feeling what the other feels. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one who is suffering. Compassion is more cognitive in nature.Which comes first empathy or compassion? ›
While there are many differences in compassion vs. empathy, it's true that empathy nearly always precedes compassion. First, you'll identify with another person's feelings and even join in their suffering: that's empathy.Is compassion positive or negative? ›
One positive emotion that builds positive affect is the social emotion of compassion (Förster and Kanske, 2021).What will happen to the world without empathy and compassion? ›
Without empathy, we would not react to the hurt of others or to brutality. In a world without empathy, people would have to work 100% and study with the highest grades, there would be no excuses, no bad days, no dismissals due to bad moods, no excuses due to lack of skills.What will happen without compassion? ›
We would likely wither and die in such a world. Other problems arise in a loveless world. It would be impossible to trust anyone else as trust is built on faith leaps and human compassion. We would have no way to experience the safety of others unless they exactly conformed to our expectations.Does compassion make us human? ›
Compassion is deeply rooted in human nature; it has a biological basis in the brain and body. Humans can communicate compassion through facial gesture and touch, and these displays of compassion can serve vital social functions, strongly suggesting an evolutionary basis of compassion.What is the difference between empathy and compassion? ›
Empathy is feeling another person's pain, whereas compassion is taking action to relieve the suffering of others. Learn more about the difference between compassion vs. empathy and how to exhibit both in your everyday life.What is compassion without empathy? ›
Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.What is compassion vs empathy vs sympathy? ›
While these words are close cousins, they are not synonymous with one another. Sympathy means you can understand what the person is feeling. Empathy means that you feel what a person is feeling. Compassion is the willingness to relieve the suffering of another.
What is strength of compassion? ›
Compassionate and humble leaders possess a sincere respect and concern for others and are able to act with empathy, understanding, and kindness. They don't consider themselves better or more important than anyone else, and they tend to demonstrate great generosity.