Alexandra Chisholm is a physical therapist, specializing in the care of complex burn survivors. She has a special interest and education in pain management, and is, in her words, passionate about the Science and Art of alleviating pain and suffering. I am very lucky to say that she is also my best friend since our high school days. She recently wrote this post on LinkedIn about compassion, and her recent experiences with both the healthcare system and the RCMP detachment in Campbell River BC. I think the lessons here are very applicable to the subject of compassion in the workplace.
Please, before you read the rest of today’s blog post, read this link below. I promise my blog post will make more sense if you read her post first, and then come back here to continue reading what I have written.
Now that you’ve read Alex’s post …
So I’m assuming you’ve read her post and have come back to continue. The “lifelong dear friend” she refers to is my husband Al Sunderji, who very suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on August 27, 2022, just over 12 weeks ago, while we both were on a short holiday in Campbell River BC. The “friend who is of short stature” is me. Alex flew out immediately to be with me, and what we both experienced during that horrible day and the days following was sympathy, empathy, and compassion. And the one that really mattered …. compassion.
Given Alex’s great interest and passion in the topic of compassion, I asked her for the difference in meaning between the three words – sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Here’s what she told me.
- Sympathy is when you feel sorry for the person who has experienced misfortune. It usually translates into pity, and while it may be an admirable emotion, it does nothing for the individual who is in physical or emotional pain.
- Empathy is when you actually try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to feel what they are feeling. It goes beyond sympathy, and when you acknowledge the pain being felt by the other person, it can be helpful to them.
- Compassion however, is when you not only experience empathy, but you take action to alleviate the other person’s pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional. It could be holding someone’s hand and sitting in silence, or bringing a warm blanket, or offering a meal.
On August 27 and the heartbreaking days and weeks following, I have experienced sympathy, empathy, and compassion. And I can tell you, firsthand, it is the compassion that makes the difference. The Campbell River RCMP detachment showed compassion. Some others, not so much.
This is SO applicable to the world of work!
Now Alex works in healthcare, but these concepts are so easily translatable to the world of work, and the topic of compassion in the workplace.
I have repeatedly spoken and written about the importance of empathy in leaders, even going as far as to say that it is the most critical leadership skill in the post-pandemic workplace.
I am now officially changing that to “Compassion in the workplace is the most critical leadership skill in the post-pandemic world.” When leaders show compassion, they build employee engagement and loyalty.
If one of your staff is facing eldercare issues, what can you do that will go beyond empathy? Perhaps offer an adjusted schedule, give the person the phone number for the EAP program, or just let them vent. If one of your team members wants to continue to work from home even though the company has mandated that everyone needs to return to the office, what action can you take without compromising the policy? Maybe you could ask more questions to get to the root cause of why they want to work from home and see if you can come up with a creative solution without breaking the rules.
So I’d love to know what you think. Are you seeing sympathy, empathy, or compassion in the workplace? Or none of the above?! What are some great acts of compassion that you have observed. Please share by commenting below.