Cultivating Compassion at Work

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chodron


Finding compassion for others at work can be hard. I know, I've practiced it.

And in that practice, I had days when I succeeded at giving compassion to others and felt the positive difference it made in my day -- less stress, anxiety and a calmer feeling in my body. 

I also had times when, despite my highest and best efforts, I could not muster any compassion for my colleagues. Normally my inability to have compassion was due to compassion fatigue -- the experience of having to find compassion day after day, over and over, only to develop an indifference to it. When that started to happen, I knew I needed a good long break from work, an honest, heart-felt conversation with a colleague... or even to find a new job. 

I believe it's important that you cultivate compassion for your colleagues and that you set the example of what compassion can look like in the workplace. But I also know how hard this can be, so here are a few things I want you to consider:

Have you tried having compassion for your colleagues? 

If you haven't, give it a chance. Open your heart to their suffering, their challenges, and their perspective and then give yourself a pause to have empathy for their human experience. Forgive them, and give them grace and kindness to see if that transforms things for you. 

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue for your colleagues?

If you find yourself practicing compassion day after day, week after week for a particular colleague, then what can you do differently to shift things so that you don't burn out?

-Can you have a heart-felt conversation with that person?
-Do you need a long vacation?
-How can you practice self-care at work? Take a moment to pause and breathe, go for a walk or take a break. 

When all else fails, what do YOU need?

Maybe you just need to change something at work so that your experience shifts? Perhaps it's time to get your stuff in order to put out the feelers for a new job?

Is it YOU who needs compassion and forgiveness?

Projection is a powerful thing. It happens when you experience something within that you project onto another person as a way of protecting yourself. For example, are you projecting your need for forgiveness, compassion and kindness onto others because you so desperately crave it yourself?

How can you give yourself the compassion, forgiveness and kindness you crave? Perhaps it's a long walk at lunch, a vacation, or a fresh bouquet of flowers on your desk? Whatever it is for you, practice compassion for yourself like you would for others around you. 

Key Takeaway
What is your relationship to compassion at work? How have you cultivated compassion for others and yourself? Has it made a difference in your experience of work?