Monica Worline and Jane Dutton have given us a rare gift. Their new book Awakening Compasssion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations takes a fairly old discussion and updates it nicely.
While most managers have moved (hopefully) beyond Taylor’s concept that we are all just cogs in complex machines, we have not yet fully embraced the idea that we can work like we are playing some competitive team sport like soccer or football. These authors dare to suggest that what we need is less macho and more femininity in the workplace. That’s not near all they do, but that’s the direction they take us. I like the journey.
For a sample of their writing and teaching skills, see the sample below:
The Best Reason for Leaders to Cultivate Mindfulness
Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton
Workplaces often silence suffering. Usually the silence comes from fear. We are afraid that expressing suffering will seem unprofessional. We are afraid our difficult feelings will cause conflict or evoke harmful emotions in others. We are afraid of negative repercussions, or we don’t want to draw too much attention to ourselves.
But these fears that silence suffering also stifle compassion. And compassion matters at work. It is a portal to resilience, adaptability, innovation, and collaboration. Compassion helps people heal in the wake of tragedy and helps organizations bounce back after downturns in the market. Compassion is a key to engaging and retaining both employees and clients. So how can leaders who want these benefits in their organizations confront these fears and break the silence that keeps out compassion?
One answer is to become more mindful. While mindfulness has become popular recently because it helps us to manage stress, it has other benefits for leaders as well. And cultivating compassion may be the best reason of all to learn to practice more mindfulness as a leader.
Mindfulness is sometimes defined as an embodied awareness of what is changing from moment to moment. When we are mindful, we can see more of what is influencing us at subtle levels. We realize that we are being pulled by tides of fear, time pressure, hierarchy, and stigma that are barely recognizable in our conscious experience. But the pull of these tides is often strong enough to keep us silent. As we become more mindful of our own experience, we realize that others are caught in these tides as well. So, mindfulness helps cultivate compassion for ourselves and for others.
Mindfulness is often taught through practices such as observing oneself breathing, repeating a simple sound or phrase, or using visualization for systemic relaxation. These techniques help us see our active and jumpy mind for what it is, and help us get to the deeper benefits of more calm, less fear, and a greater capacity to remain present with others. When we are more mindful as leaders, we have the capacity to hear and witness suffering without losing our cool. We move toward compassion.
Mindfulness helps leaders cultivate compassion in another significant way. Research shows that people in positions of power are less attuned to the full humanity of others in lower status positions. That means it is easy for leaders to overlook suffering. Even if they care—leaders may simply be blinded by their position. Mindfulness helps leaders take off these blinders.
Mindful leaders use practices of reflection, meditation, breathing, prayer, dialogue, visualization or other tools to restore their awareness of the range of emotions and reactions people are bringing to work. One suggestion we offer in our book Awakening Compassion at Work is to repeat a phrase we learned from our colleague Peter Frost. Each time you are about to enter a conversation or launch a meeting, remind yourself: “There’s always pain in the room.” Once you see and feel the pain people are bringing to work, you will be able to break the silence and unlock the force of compassion in your organization.
For even more thoughtful information about compassion in the workplace, check out the Awakening Compassion at Work blogsite
Monica Worline, PhD, is CEO of EnlivenWork. She is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work.
Jane Dutton, PhD, is the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology and cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. She has written over 100 articles and published 13 books, including Energize Your Workplace and How to Be a Positive Leader. She is also a \founding member of the CompassionLab.