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How to show compassion to coworkers during times of crisis

We all struggle sometimes.  Our personal lives (and professional lives) are affected by the world around us, and those stressors don’t fall away when we come to work.  If a colleague is struggling, they’ll feel more comfortable confiding in you if you show compassion. How did you react the last time a member of your team shared something important and personal?

When a colleague comes to you with big news, especially about any challenges they’re having, they’ve been very brave. So how do you get the right response?

The first thing you say must show compassion and empathy on a personal level.

Resist the temptation to steer the conversation to work related issues.  You may not know exactly how to respond, and that’s okay. You can listen, and let the person know that you are glad that they came to you.’

text reads "what do I say?"

😢  “I’m really struggling with everything I’ve been reading in the news.” ➡️ “I’m so sorry to hear it. How are you coping?”

🖥️  “With everything going on, this latest project has got me really stressed to the point where I’m not able to concentrate.” ➡️ “I’m so sorry to hear it, and thank you for telling me. How can I help you to manage your workload?”

Compassion can be shown when there’s good news too! For example…

👶  “I’m expecting a baby.” ➡️ “Congratulations! I am so happy for you and your family. How are you feeling about everything?”

Compassion isn’t just for other people

You need to be compassionate to yourself as well. Psychologist Kristin Neff pioneered the concept of self-compassion. She describes it as being kind towards oneself. Practising self-compassion is associated with faster recovery from trauma.

quote reading "with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we'd give a good friend

Self-compassion allows us to feel guilt rather than shame, which keeps us striving to improve, rather than give up. Remember that self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence.

Myths about self-compassion

In this article, Kristin Neff describes the five myths about self-compassion. We pull out three of these below.

1️⃣  Self-compassion is a form of self-pity.

Self-compassion is actually a counter to self-pity. It allows us to deal with difficult feelings and move on from them faster. Self-compassionate people are less likely to get swallowed up by self-pitying thoughts. It’s also associated with better mental health.

2️⃣  Self-compassion will make us complacent.

Self-compassion actually motivates us to improve ourselves. The combination of an honest recognition of the situation, as well as sympathy and encouragement for ourselves are very effective. Acknowledging our errors with kindness rather than judgement makes it easier for us to be self-aware.

3️⃣  Self-compassion is selfish.

Self-compassion is often conflated with selfishness, but that’s just not true. Being good to yourself actually helps you be good to others. Being bad to yourself only gets in the way.

Kristin Neff found in a study that relationship partners who scored higher on the self-compassion scale were described by their partners as being more caring.


Are you kind to yourself when things go wrong?

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Be more kind to yourself…

💡 Think about a failure that made you feel upset. Then draft a letter to yourself in the same way that you would a friend.

💡 Reframe your self-critical inner voice. Notice the next time you put yourself down, moderate that voice.

Here are our top tips to help you show compassion everyday:

✅  Show empathy by taking the other person’s perspective. Ask them: “What are you thinking?”

✅  When someone tells you some difficult news, say how sorry you are first.

✅  Take the time to get to know your team. Ask them how they’re doing.

✅  Be compassionate to yourself as well as other people.

🗝️ Your key takeaway

Being compassionate helps your team open up, even about the hard stuff. Teams where people act compassionately help support each other through difficult times. Compassion and empathy will make people feel more engaged and understood. Show your compassion in conversation by taking another’s perspective and simply ask them how they’re feeling.

Inclusion Works by Hive Learning

Inclusion Works from Hive Learning is a group-based peer learning program designed to create large-scale impactful & inclusive change across your organization. We give people the tools to make small changes to their daily behaviors and help them rapidly learn, relearn, and respond to the changing world around them.

Learn More About Inclusion Works