Join Jeff Weiner for an in-depth discussion in this video Manage compassionately, part of On Leadership by Jeff Weiner.
- So I think we should start, when it comes to managing compassionately, with the definition of compassion. And that really begins with recognizing the difference between compassion and empathy, which a lot of people have a tendency to use synonymously. Empathy is feeling what another living thing feels. Compassion, classically defined, is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person, see the world through their lens or perspective for the sake of alleviating their suffering. Now alleviating one's suffering within a corporate environment may be a bit much, may be a little extreme, so we can amend that to suggest that compassion and managing compassionately is about putting yourself in the shoes of another person, seeing the world through their perspective for the sake of helping them. And ideally, for the sake of helping them achieve a mutually stated objective. That's how you create a lot of value for your team. Put another way, very simple formula, compassion equals empathy plus action. And this is the fundamental difference. Empathy in and of itself is a means to an end. And I always get triggered, we're talking about triggers earlier, I get a little triggered when I hear people talking about empathy as its own end. Empathy is not an end game. The best illustration I've ever heard of the difference between empathy and compassion comes from the Dalai Lama, and it was in a book I read, I was about 30 years old, called "The Art of Happiness." The Dalai Lama would explain it this way. If you were walking along a mountainous trail and you came across someone that was being crushed with a boulder on their chest, and they were suffocating and suffering horribly, the empathetic response would be to feel the same sense of suffering, the same suffocation, which would render you helpless. And now you've got two people that are in a lot of trouble. The compassionate response, potentially drawing upon your empathy because maybe you've experienced something similar, is to recognize that that person is suffocating and suffering, and then do everything within your power to remove the boulder from their chest. That's compassion. So not a lot of mountainous trails here where I am fearful that you're going to be crushed by a boulder, but we have a lot of meetings here at LinkedIn. - Yeah. - Little different. Would've been funny if the Dalai Lama was talking about a meeting he had had with some Buddhist monks. (audience laughs) So let's make this a little more practical. So has anyone recently been in a meeting that went a little bit differently than they were hoping? Show of hands, anyone? Come on, how could not every hand go up? Please. (audience laughs) We are all in meetings all the time where there's tension and friction, happens to all of us. So let's say we're in a meeting, and you have an, speaking to the importance of agendas, you have an agenda, you have a clearly stated objective. Maybe the other person has an agenda, and you're not mutually aligned. And maybe your objective and their objective create friction, tension. The other person starts to get angry. Your empathetic response is to be what? They're angry, now you're angry. Okay, now this starts to escalate 'cause the other person sees that you're angry and starts to dig their heels in and gets super defensive. Now they're defensive and your empathetic response is? Defensive. And now you're going at one another and maybe pushing each other's buttons, creating triggers. Someone insults you. They start to feel insecure. You start to feel? Okay, so now you're angry, you're defensive, and you're insecure. (woman laughs) Is that a recipe for a constructive interaction with another person? No, not in any way, shape, or form. What you want to do in that situation is be a spectator to your own thoughts, especially when you become emotional. And actually, catch yourself being angry, feeling a little bit vulnerable, and then recognizing that's not what you came into the meeting with. That was not your intention to be in this argument with this other person. Your intention is to achieve an objective. And so with that, you get out of your own head, you de-escalate yourself, you put yourself in the shoes of the other person, and you say what in the world just happened here? What triggered them? You can actually ask them. In a very open, honest, and constructive way, you can say this was not my intention. Somewhere along the lines in this meeting, we went off the rails. I'm here to do this, you're here to do that. If I said something that upset you in some way, please understand I didn't mean to. So let's get back to what it was that we were talking about. You can begin to de-escalate the situation. In that moment, what's happened? So not only did you go from off the rails to back on the rails, and not only are you in a position to make that meeting more effective, that person now believes you have their back, that you're looking out for them. And that creates trust. Now imagine that compounds throughout your team and the entire organization. Imagine the kind of culture that you can build where people recognize that everyone has one another's back, that you're there because you're aligned in terms of what you're trying to accomplish and how you're trying to accomplish it. That becomes invaluable, absolutely invaluable. When you invest in other people's success, like this example, you're investing in your own success, one. Two, you're establishing trust, which equals consistency over time. And when you have more trust with a team, you can make better decisions faster because you establish shorthands and shortcuts, and you don't have to constantly question one another. You give them the benefit of the doubt. And ultimately, the value of a company, the long-term value of a company is about the speed and quality of the decisions that are made within that company and amongst the decision-makers. And if you have that kind of trust, you can make better decisions faster. And then lastly, when you're operating compassionately, you can start to ask difficult questions and start to get in front proactively, avoid unintended consequences, which can save you from making very bad costly decisions down the road. So that's the value of managing compassionately, and that's possible when you're a spectator to your own thoughts. Two most frequently asked questions I get on the subject of managing compassionately is, "I hear you, this makes a lot of sense, "love the idea of compassion, "and I'm super compassionate when it comes to people I like. (audience laughs) "What should I do with the people I don't like? "'Cause I don't want to be very compassionate with them." Compassion is not conditional. Compassion is easiest with the people you care about the most. It's the people that you don't naturally connect with, those are the folks that need your compassion the most. And I mention this whole notion of rise in tribalism that takes place through digital forms now. It's a shining example of where if we were to put ourselves in the shoes of these other people that we would normally disconnect from, we see that they have a different view, a different creed, a different perspective, different politics, and we immediately shut them out or insult them, and then surround ourselves with people like us. And it just intensifies the differences as opposed to getting out of our own heads, putting ourself in their shoes and asking why they have the perspectives that they do and learning more about their perspective and why they think what they think. Compassion is not conditional. And it's required most when working with people you don't normally and naturally align with. "So I'm assuming based on this idea of compassion "that I should never fire anyone "'cause that wouldn't be a very compassionate thing to do." (audience laughs) Seriously, this is the second-most frequently asked question I get. "Well, I'm managing compassion, "does that mean if I have an underperformer, "I just kind of leave them alone? "Is that compassionate?" The longer you leave that person who's in over their head in that role without stepping in and intervening and ensuring that you're doing everything you can to set them up to be successful, whether that's coaching them on their deficiencies, or gaps, or their weaknesses, or putting them in a different role that plays to their strengths, or helping them transition out of the company in a constructive and compassionate way, that's what's necessary in those situations. That's the most compassionate thing you can do, to be open, honest, and constructive exactly as you said. So compassion does not mean not having hard decisions. It's the exact opposite. Hard decisions, hard conversations, being there for one another in those difficult moments.
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