Friday, September 10, 2010

KeFactors Fridays: Has Compassion Gone Out of Style?

I was in my car at a busy intersection, so lost in thought that I sat through the green left turn arrow. Upon realizing my mistake, I raised my hand in a flat wave ("Sorry about that!"). The driver behind me nodded, grinned, and waved his hand in a similar way ("No problem!"). No one beeped in anger or impatience.

Why do I remember such a small moment?

It happened on the afternoon of September 12, 2001. Like most Americans, I was immersed in thoughts about events of the previous day. Most of my generation had grown up in the era of skepticism, of Vietnam and Watergate, and suddenly we were patriots again. While the attacks triggered acts of hatred, they also inspired an unprecedented sense of community. Maybe the driver behind me used that small moment in traffic to express his donation to the solution: he opted to give patience.

Workplaces are more often defined by matters of ambition, goal-setting, strategies, and efficiencies, less by tiny acts of compassion. And yet compassion can fuel all the above. Here's how you can become part of the solution.

You have influence. You do not have to be a manager or CEO to influence others. By your own choice of behaviors, you give tacit permission for positive or negative conduct from others.

Listen, and establish credibility. Others are more likely to listen to us when they feel we are prepared to listen to them, not merely with passive attention but with a silence that acknowledges their words and experiences. And silence does not have to mean agreement. It's far easier to resolve disagreements when you feel you've at least been heard and understood.

Be specific in your thanks. Human beings flourish in the ways they are praised, because they're more likely to repeat and improve those abilities. Next time a co-worker hands you a completed task, give a more concrete, specific word of appreciation. Lift it out of the routine: rather than the usual "Thanks!" why not try, "You're always so quick and organized, I really appreciate that."

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