7 Ways to Improve Your Capacity for Compassion

I attended a leadership conference a few weeks ago at which I had been asked to speak.  In one of the sessions, I was surprised when a senior executive stood before a group of newly promoted leaders and said, “I want to remind you of the importance of really loving the people who work for you!”  I have long believed that leaders who truly care for their people become the leaders who are able to help others to create extraordinary results.  I just had never heard anyone express this sentiment so directly or openly.

Caring for others really does have an impact on how we treat and speak with others. I have often been asked after spending a number of days teaching a variety of conversation skills, “Is there any way I could assimilate all you have been teaching us about communicating more quickly?”  The answer to this question is both “yes” and “no.”


The “Yes” Answer  

In thinking about the answer to this question, I am reminded of a story I heard years ago. It seems that a certain community was being ravaged by diphtheria.  A young father heard that his neighbors and their three children had been stricken.  Because no one seemed to want to help for fear of being infected, he took it upon himself to help this family.

When he visited the family’s home, he found one of the children had died and the two others were in utter agony from the disease. Because the parents of the child were also stricken, he immediately prepared the toddler’s body for burial, cleaned the rest of the house, prepared a meal, and saw to the remaining children’s needs. The next day when he returned to the home, he found another child had died in the night. He then turned his attention to the remaining child who was suffering.  With no thought for himself, he took the child in his arms and walked the floor with her trying to provide some degree of comfort until she was overcome by the disease and died.  He continued to assist this grief-stricken family by preparing the children’s bodies for burial.  He ended up making funeral arrangements and speaking at the graveside services. 

This man over time became a great leader in his community in part because of the compassion he had for others. How could such an individual who possessed the character trait of compassion and kindness not radiate and speak to others in such a way that would leave no doubt that he cared for each of them?  One way to become a better communicator is to develop compassion for others.

The “No” Answer

How do you learn or teach others compassion?  In some measure, the care and concern we have for others is an outward expression of how we feel about ourselves.  For example, if you are angry or distrusting of others, your outward treatment of them is a reflection of how you see the world and those in it. Our compassion and kindness toward others is grounded in our awareness of our own humanity and the depth of our experience.  It is difficult to have compassion for those that are hungry until you have been hungry.  As we come to respect ourselves, our respect for others will increase.  Likewise, the opposite is true.  As we get outside ourselves and understand the plight of another, we may begin to understand ourselves more deeply.

Here are some suggestions for expanding your capacity for compassion:

Set Your Judgment Aside

We are too quick to make negative assessments of others who don’t quite meet our expectations.  Be aware enough to recognize your thinking and set any negative conclusions aside.  Being willing to challenge your thinking may lead you to discover that your first impressions were incomplete or inaccurate.

Explore Their Perspective

Everyone’s behavior is grounded in some degree of rationality, even if their reasoning is only evident to them.  Taking the time to ask questions and understand their perspective will help you understand the mindset that drives their behavior.

Demonstrate Appreciation

Look for opportunities (or create an opportunity) to assist, support, or contribute to the success or wellbeing of another.  Not only will you feel more positive, but such actions are contagious and are likely to be replicated by others.

Forgive Others

There is nothing worse than holding on to negative thoughts and feelings about others.  Doing so is not only unhealthy physically and mentally, but to some degree you will hinder yourself from achieving what is important to you.  Let your negative feelings and judgments go and look for ways to increase respect, strengthen relationships, and improve results.

Speak Kind Words

Not only will a kind word lift a person in the moment, but those kind words may positively impact that person for the rest of their life.  Kindness begets kindness.  If you are kind to others, they will in turn be kind to you and to those around them, causing a wonderful ripple effect.

Hold Others Accountable

Being compassionate does not mean that you avoid holding difficult and necessary conversations.  On the contrary, holding these types of conversations says that you care enough about the person to talk about what matters most.  This will be appreciated as you demonstrate your own integrity and commitment to compassion by treating people with dignity and respect.

This topic is an opportunity for some personal reflection and soul searching which is not always easy.  But, if you really want to improve the quality of your conversations and relationships, there is much to be said in support of improving yourself and your view of humanity.

What do you do to cultivate compassion in yourself and others? How has this impacted you? Your relationships with others?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.