Compassion in Business – What Does it Look, Sound and Feel Like?

This week we look at some recent research on the quality and consistency of compassion and discuss the implications this has for our organisation, customers and staff.

We discuss how our corporations, teams and leaders would benefit from demonstrating genuine compassion in their relationships.

Defining Compassion

There are different descriptions of compassion and what it means. So to begin  we’ve taken three core aspects

1. Recognition of suffering

2. Emotional connection

3. A movement towards addressing the suffering

With elements such as these we can sustain and take empathy further and just as importantly learn how to show self-compassion in the difficulties of life.

Compassion requires a deeper and more active imagination (than empathy) that incorporates a wider range of skills and insights.

For instance, researcher Ronald Epstein and his team from Rochester New York have studied Doctors specialising in Cancer treatment and the many different ways in which they do and don’t convey compassion to patients.

Including their

  • Voice tone
  • Loudness of voice
  • Non-verbal behaviours and animations that convey tenderness and reassurance
  • Use of metaphors and humour, language and touch that conveys psychological comfort

And unsurprisingly they found that doctors’ abilities in these areas differ widely because even in the caring professions very little training (and sometimes none at all) is given on compassion.

Research Conclusions

One major conclusion was that doctors must challenge themselves to stay with difficult discussions, which open the door for the patient to bear emotions such as uncertainty, vulnerability and the fear of potential loss to the normalcy of their life.

But when you think about that, Doctors challenging themselves to stay with difficult discussions, in particular difficult to bear emotions, there are a multitude of reasons why they fail to do this and the lack of training is just one.

The study said, “It became apparent that compassion is not a quality of a single utterance but rather is made up of presence and engagement that suffuses an entire conversation”.

Presence and Engagement

Presence is a word that is sometimes seen as a new age description and is rarely used in business settings. Apart from, “this person has presence when she/he enters the room”.

Offering presence to others however has much more depth.  As visionary thinker Dr Richard Moss says, “The greatest gift we can give anyone is the quality of our attention”.

True, full, total attention takes presence; the presence to be truly with another person that would include skills such as Centred Listening

As the research indicated, one major aspect of presence is when we learn to stay with the other person’s difficult emotions as this forms the cornerstone of the quality of attention that we give, especially when they are suffering. Be that physical, mental or emotional.

This is where many of us begin to notice how difficult it is to stay present with

  • Our customers
  • Our colleagues
  • Our Self

And when we struggle to stay present, we struggle to be compassionate, engage and collaborate. This is because without presence, in the face of challenging emotions we tend to feel anxious. And we all have our own strategies for avoiding anxiety!

Many of us can hardly sit comfortably with ourselves let alone a multitude of others. I have many friends who cannot bear to be off for a few days poorly, because they can’t live with themselves as their virus keeps them immobilised at home. They climb the walls because they don’t know how to stay present to difficult feelings.

The Early Clues of Disengagement

Often the first clue we notice when we are not truly present with another is the quality of our listening, as it drops – Followed by a wide range of non-verbal behaviours and imbalanced language that deplets the quality of communication.

Here are just a few examples of when people serving others have struggled to be present with difficult situations they face with their customers and staff.

  • When my mother was admitted to hospital for unexplained internal bleeding and having been left alone in a side ward without attention for far too long she caught a nurse shake her head at her, implying she was on her way out of this life. As you can imagine not what she wanted or needed at the time.
  • The Police Officers who leave victims feeling judged by asking, “Why did you let him back in then”?
  • The leaders whose mantra is, “just do it”, or “This is a challenge not a problem”, when staff are already in anxiety, burnout or left bewildered by change fatigue and are not having their feelings acknowledged or recognised.
  • When Government ministers and groups in areas such as education fail to recognise when their target systems have a negative effect on performance and increase anxiety.

Compassion is essential for resilience, collaboration, emotional intelligence, to sustain empathy in difficult times, (Neuro science from the Max Planck Institute supports this view) to keep good employees and to keep customers that are loyal advocates.

But first we must wake up to what it looks, sounds and feels like and then begin to train these skills, starting with the leaders!

If you would value a no obligation chat about performance, the vision you have for your organisation or any of the topics we specialise within please contact me at





Sign up to our blog

We'll deliver our latest blog posts straight to your inbox every other Monday, and you'll also get our 15 Essential Ingredients for Success PDF download.

cover of 15 Essential Ingredients for Success cover

* = required field


Popular Posts

Follow us on LinkedIn