Self Compassion in Business

A few years ago, I’d have laughed at the idea of using compassion – let alone self compassion – in a business context.  It seems so incongruous.

But now I think it’s indispensable.

I think it could be argued that the main problem with the workplace is lack of compassion. Showing compassion is often equated with weakness, or letting ourselves or others off the hook. In fact Paul Gilbert has shown that we fear that we will become lazy if we are too compassionate, so it is seen often as a bit soft, unbusinesslike.

Yet I would argue the alternative is far less successful. Effective leadership, organisational design, employee engagement, meaning in work, resilience – all of these start with compassion. And the evidence is growing to support this view:

  • Students with most self compassion were least likely to procrastinate (Williams, Stark and Foster, 2008)
  • Self compassion predicts resilience / re-engagement with goals following failure (Neff et al, 2005) *
  • Self acceptance predicts willingness to receive and act on feedback (Chamberlain et al, 2001)

As Kelly McGonigal outlines here, self compassion correlates with lower depression, social anxiety, anger, judgment, close mindedness, less unhealthy perfectionism, greater social connection and empathy. And not only that, but self compassion can be taught. The big question is how.

Many cognitive therapists would start with disputing or changing negative thoughts about ourselves. Yet I would start with context, and acceptance. And for this, no one says it better than Ken Robinson:

“Human beings were born of risen apes, not fallen angels.  And so what shall we wonder at? Our massacres, our missiles, or our symphonies?

The miracle of human kind is not how far we have sunk but how magnificently we have risen.  We will be known among the stars not by our corpses, but by our poems.”

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