The Emotional Wheel: Compassion
This is not the classical definition of compassion. What we have found in the workplace is that the degree to which we feel “at risk” impacts performance and our trust in those we work with. One way to think about this is to consider the risks we face every day. If it’s your first day on the job at a large organization, you might ask anyone for directions to a good place to eat at lunchtime. Small risk. If you are going to enter your first team meeting and your new manager asks you to share a brief history of your personal and professional life with no previous notice, you may feel your heart race and your stomach tighten and feel very much at risk.
I once observed a leader who asked a newly hired person to explain to the rest of the team why they believe they were hired. Really put the person on the spot. It was awkward at best. Being placed in this position does not demonstrate that the manager understands the degree to which someone may feel at risk and can be viewed as lacking compassion. The greater the understanding of risk, the greater the degree to which one can show compassion.
To put this another way, as a manager, you might ask someone who is highly extroverted to step in and do a presentation with a large audience for you at the last moment, and they might be thrilled that you trust them to do so. You might also ask someone who is highly introverted to do the same task, and they might feel at great risk and be left feeling that you don’t know them and that you made a self-interested decision that lacked compassion for putting them “at risk.” We have also found that this version of compassion is often a blind spot that shocks some people when they realize that they diminished trust by putting others into unnecessary risk.
Being considerate plays into this trait. To be considerate, one needs information. A good question here is, “How much do I know about others I work with frequently?” The other side of the equation is, “How much do others know about me?” Vulnerability plays into this as well. If I don’t know something about your feelings on risk, because you aren’t willing to be vulnerable and share, I may be viewed as lacking compassion when the core issue really is I am lacking information!
Please note that we all have different profiles when it comes to risk. If you go to a financial planner, one of the initial things they will talk to you about is your tolerance for risk. It is no different when thinking about your money or your work. A compassionate team member or manager needs understanding of your risk profile to make compassionate decisions that build trust.