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Self-Compassion Is Your Best Ally at Work

How can being kind to yourself make your team more effective? Learn more about self-compassion.

Overwhelmed, resigned, powerless. These feelings are all too common among managers and employees, especially when things are in flux, as they are now. The situation can sometimes seem insurmountable, leaving workers wondering if their individual contributions really make a difference. Yet, there is a simple solution, albeit counter-intuitive, if you want to overcome these feelings : self-compassion.

The concept, which recently surfaced in scientific literature, involves shifting your focus back to yourself so that you are better prepared to face the challenges ahead. Interestingly, self-compassion is not just good for the person who practices it. Their direct and indirect entourage can also reap the benefits.

What is self-compassion?

We are all familiar with how to be compassionate toward others. It is a matter of being attentive and helping those in need. But what is self-compassion? How do you go about practicing it? And how might this attitude trickle down to your colleagues?

Self-compassion consists in being kind with yourself—and not self-critical—when you are faced with a challenging situation. Of course, it is easier said than done. Indeed, many people have an innate tendency to expect more from themselves than they would from others, especially when things aren’t going as planned. This is particularly true for people in management positions.

So, what is involved in being self-compassionate? There are three things to keep in mind:

  • Know your strengths and focus on them (self-kindness);
  • Keep things in perspective and remember that dissatisfaction and disappointment are normal and part of the human experience (common humanity);
  • Stay focused on the here and now (mindfulness).

How do you apply self-compassion in the workplace?

Let’s look at a case study. You and your colleagues are leading a large-scale digital transformation at work. During the implementation phase, it becomes clear that you underestimated the extent to which changing certain software would impact your suppliers. Their adjustment period forces you to extend the implementation phase, which frustrates those who have been clamouring for the new program and galvanizes the ire of those who were not on board with change to begin with. You are beside yourself. How could you have failed to foresee the impacts? What a terrible mistake!

In a situation like this, many people would hang their heads and tell themselves that the situation is all their fault. But will wallowing in guilt help them do better next time? Probably not, though that is nonetheless how a lot of people tend to respond.

Instead, a self-compassionate approach would involve:

  • Recognizing that some aspects of the process went smoothly;
  • Rallying your strengths, particularly the qualities that can help you address the situation (self-kindness);
  • Remembering that pitfalls are part of the change management process (common humanity);
  • Focusing on what you can do to correct the situation (mindfulness).

Compassion is not complacency

It is not about making excuses or shirking your responsibilities. Compassion is not complacency. Rather, it is about being kind and fair to yourself when things go wrong, while still being accountable.

Adopting this attitude will make life easier for you and for those around you. According to some studies, people who are self-compassionate tend to:

  • Be better equipped to help others because they have a better understanding of their own limits;
  • Create a more positive work climate because they are more attuned to other peoples’ acts of kindness and are therefore more likely to reciprocate;
  • Promote team innovation by helping create an environment where people are not afraid to fail and recognize that it is part of the creative process.

If a leader is self-compassionate, it can serve as a good example and inspire their team members to be more compassionate toward themselves.

Benefits for the whole team

Like any skill, self-compassion can be learned, but it involves making a constant conscious effort to change unhelpful thought patterns.

People can learn how to be self-compassionate through individual and group activities.

Given all the advantages of self-compassion, it is likely that tomorrow’s leaders will be both high-achievers and compassionate toward themselves.

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