At a recent visit to the Apple Store in Covent Garden, I got chatting with one of the advisers, Candy. She was providing me with great customer service and seemed very chipper so I asked if she enjoyed working at Apple and with a big grin she said ‘Yes, I really do’ ‘What do you enjoy about it?’ I asked. ‘Because I feel like I matter here’ she replied.’ Our bosses are really compassionate and we can be ourselves at work – we don’t need team days, we all socialise and get on anyway!’
What she had said really struck a chord. Us humans like to feel like we matter and that we are cared about – whether at home or at work. In my last article I talked about creating the right psychological work environment where our humanness is celebrated and now I’d like to explore the magic ingredients that make our workplaces more human.
My start point is to say what makes us human in life? I have made it my mission over recent years to really explore this from a personal, society and work perspective. In reality, it’s similar for each. The formality and dynamics of the workplace of the past has usually required us to leave our ‘home self’ at home and paint on our ‘work self’ as soon as we go through the door. It’s not that long ago that we colleagues were addressed as Miss, Mister or Mrs. Formality was considered part of professionalism. Fortunately, this is no longer the case in the age of self-actualisation and rapidly changing work landscapes. But how far have we really come?
Ok so it may be a step too far to sit in the office in your onesie with bean juice down the front making your way through a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and insisting on hugging everyone you come in to contact with. But being professional and being fully human are not mutually exclusive. We know now that showing our vulnerability in our authenticity will achieve more followership than presenting as the iceman or woman.
So what does it take to be fully human? In the age of AI this question seems more important than ever. We are not bright, high performing computers that can be replaced by even more efficient tech versions. We all intrinsically know there is so much more to us. We have a consciousness, feelings, emotions that I can’t ever imagine being replaced by robots (at least I hope not!). We have sensitivities and we want to love and be loved. This goes for our life and our work too. If someone becomes aggressive in a meeting – we get hurt and may lash out in response. We want our work to be liked and feel that who we are and what we do matters.
Ariana Huffington in a recent article in her Thrive newsletter says ‘we are drowning in data but starved of wisdom’ If we don’t start truly focusing on our humanity in all its imperfection and glory, we could find ourselves in a real mess. There are many things that make us more human and over the coming months I’d like to explore them along with some practical ideas on how we can do more of each in the workplace we want to create.
This weeks’ topic is compassion, caring and kindness. Often these states may be thought of as soft, sentimental and meant for our lives out of work. Yet we are all now seeing what happens when these are absent from our daily working lives (where we may spend two thirds of our waking day). The obvious consequences of the absence of compassion, caring and kindness are resentment, stress and unhappiness! In fact, neuroscience is now showing us the benefits of compassion to our performance and that it’s not just about being nice to one another.
But do we really need science to tell is that our days will be happier if we are kinder, more compassionate and more caring? Do we really need to over-intellectualise it?
I grew up in corporate absorbing that ‘business is tough, ‘it’s just business’ ‘we need to park emotion’ ‘there is no room for sentiment’ ‘it’s a dog eat dog world’. In this world where people view work differently to previous generations, isn’t it time to let go of this old paradigm and operate from a point of trust and love rather than fear.
Have you ever dreaded going into work because the people around you were in a negative spiral of energy? We are all emotional beings and we can’t help but be affected by the varying moods and interactions we have with others. Life is always changing and this constant change can create difficult thoughts and emotions, which can flow into the workplace but If we can meet suffering at work with concern and care, compassion naturally arises. Work environments that cultivate compassion create a much more positive and productive place to work.
So how can we encourage our workplaces to become more compassionate, caring and kind?
Compassion is a human process involving the ability to notice, feel, or perceive another person’s pain or problem and to be with or take action to alleviate that person’s suffering. Over the last 6 years, Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan has studied an array of organizational settings (hospitals, universities, and businesses like Macys and Cisco). She found that when distressed employees received acts of compassion like emotional support, time off from work, or flowers, they demonstrated more positive emotions such as joy and contentment, and had greater commitment toward their workplace organization. These results existed regardless of whether employees received compassion directly or merely witnessed it. So what else can we do for ourselves and nurture in our cultures?
Start with self-compassion. Charity begins at home right. I for one am certainly quite hard on myself at times. It’s not about not stretching and challenging ourselves but sometimes I’m actually quite mean to me with my internal dialogue. I can have unrealistic expectations of myself and I know when I’m in this mode that can be true of my expectations of others. So it starts with being kinder and more compassionate to ourselves. Try noticing when you are being mean girl and switch the dialogue. ‘Not good enough’ makes us feel quite different to ‘Doing the best that I can, given the circumstances’ and think about how that energy will radiate outwards.
Take greater notice of your fellow employees’ psychological well-being. For example, someone is struggling with a difficult break-up or childcare issues. Melwani et al. (2012) demonstrated that people who act compassionately are perceived more strongly as leaders and that perceived intelligence (i.e., how clever and knowledgeable the person is) bridges the relationship between compassion and leadership.
Invite more authenticity and open communication into the workplace. Many places have created huddles not to just report on project progress, but to give people a chance to express how they are feeling and support one another. Building a trusted environment where people can be truly open is key to this – where people are not afraid to fail or fear being judged.
Take on the perspective of the other person. This is also known as “cognitive empathy,” or simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. This type of empathy can help in negotiating or motivating people to give their best effort. A great way to look at a challenge or problem is to look at the other persons’ perspective. We all get stuck in our own maps of the world and as Steven Covey tells us to build trust, rapport and understanding, “seek first to understand and then be understood” flexing our thinking is vital to building strong relationships.
Operating from our hearts. We can spend so much time in our heads using our rational, logical brain parts in business that we forget to connect with our hearts. Our hearts have great wisdom and intuition when deciding if something is right or not, yet we often perceive this as fluffy. Try connecting with your heart more by taking your focus internally onto your breathing. See what happens when you listen with your heart to what others have to say. What are their hearts saying? We need both our heads and our hearts of course so let’s keep them both engaged and balanced.
What can we do then, to ensure this type of thinking and behaviour across our organisations is consistent?
In a nutshell it needs to be woven into our values, expected behaviours and talked about openly and regularly. As leaders we need to lead ourselves first and become great role models to those we care for. Communication, coaching and mentoring is essential to success. From the tone of voice we use to write our emails to what advice we offer our colleagues if they are finding a particular client or colleague ‘difficult’. Compassion, kindness and caring is vital to our and their approach.
I’d love to get your feedback and ideas around this, so do drop me a line if you get chance and let me know what magic ingredient you would you like me to focus on next time.
Thanks for reading.
People & Culture Development Leader & Fellow Human