Be Compassionate to Manage People Well

Want to encourage collaboration and creativity in the workplace? Build a culture of trust that starts with compassion.

According to a psychologist at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CARE), a compassionate response to staff members’ problems produces better results than a “toughness” approach. Here’s why:

  1. Reprimands increase stress levels. Traditionally, managers have been taught to address problems or failures in the workplace with reprimands and potential – or actual – negative consequences, like “writing up” an employee or lecturing the team. The problem with this method, say researchers, is that it increases stress levels – and high stress impairs the brain’s ability to think and reason well, which increases the likelihood of future mistakes, poor decisions, and lowered productivity.
  2. Fear of punishment inhibits creativity. When employees are afraid to take a chance, they’re less likely to do so. Instead, they “keep their heads down” – putting any business at a significant disadvantage in a fast-paced, constantly innovating business environment.
  3. Reprisals damage trust. When employees face punishment or the threat of punishment for mistakes, not only does the stress damage their health, it also damages their relationship with their supervisor. Managers who rely on the “stick” rather than the “carrot” approach become less able to manage effectively, hurting both the team and the company as a whole.

Tips for Taking the Compassionate Route

How can managers avoid these risks and take a more compassionate stance toward employees – without lowering their expectations for high-quality work? Try these tips:

  1. Stay in the moment. Before speaking to an employee, pause to gather your thoughts and develop perspective. Harsh outbursts only damage your relationship and your credibility. Instead, focus on the issue that needs to be addressed and the way in which you want the employee to fix it.
  2. Change your perspective. Take a moment to see the problem from the employee’s point of view. While you don’t have to agree with the actions the employee took, understanding why they happened can help you explain how the employee can avoid making the same mistake in the future – without sounding as if you are lecturing.
  3. Let go of your own anger. Letting go of your anger, or putting it aside in order to address the issue, helps both the employee and you. Studies show that harboring resentment increases heart rate and blood pressure and may be linked to cardiovascular disease. It also occupies mental space you could be using to work more effectively at your own tasks.

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