Compassion and performance might be a pair of words that in the history of corporate world by intuition do not seem have shared a correlation until the very recent times. However, for example with the results from Google’s massive 5-year project Aristotle, trying to find the makings of a perfect team, the most common perceptions of how to reach top performance have gain new insight.
Despite all assumptions and beliefs it seems that it’s not about the right mix of people or creating internal competition among peers or groups etc. It’s about establishing a good social connection between people. It’s about compassion.
While Google might have hit the headlines with their discoveries to attract even the attention of the wider audience, in fact similar findings around the positive impact of compassion have been discussed in the field of work psychology increasingly throughout at least the last year or so. Google just went a little further to talk about psychological safety, but at least in my books, essentially they all tell us the same story.
Compassion and empathy
So what is compassion after all and what has empathy got to do with it? Obviously, the two previously mentioned are closely connected, but the main difference is that while empathy refers to the ability to feel the emotions of another person and mentally walk a mile in their shoes, compassion (“to suffer together”) makes you understand the suffering of others and gets you motivated to help relieve that suffering. Naturally compassion drills down into many sub-categories. If you are interested in those, have a look at Paul Ekman’s Taxonomy of compassion.
Why do you need compassion? It’s just business, right?
Firstly, no, it’s never just business and it’s not just the issues that have conflicts. It’s the real people that have to deal with each other and it is at most of the times very personal. Remember, you cannot argue about facts and those are not personal. Opinions and interests on their behalf can be subjected to argument and they are always personal. In a healthy environment you are allowed to have arguments and even conflicts, but you should never lose the feeling of mutual respect and trust.
I guess you can intentionally find logical answers to explain just about anything, but thinking about it, putting emphasis on compassion at work makes sense. In a safe environment, there is simply less energy being consumed in safeguarding yourself from your colleagues and thereby more energy left to deal with your actual tasks.
Additionally, in a healthy compassionate environment one can feel safer to venture out trying new things without having to fear failure to death. All in all, building a “fail fast” culture is one of the most desired states for a modern team.
Furthermore as one of the most important aspect related to the importance of compassion and psychological safety, I discussed ego depletion in one of my previous blogs Red Hammer. In short it’s a big factor in what ever we do and I recommend every curious mind to get familiar with that topic.
Getting in sync for better results
All in all, I was pretty amazed to find out about some results of an experiment in this brilliant Finnish science podcast, how a pair of strangers performed a task more efficiently together after they had been swinging together just a couple of minutes in sync.
When you look at team sports, you can find a lot of training and preparation methods using this angle, be it the synchronized warm up drills, coordination training or getting mentally prepared for competition. Take a look at this Jordan commercial, and especially towards the end of it to see what I am talking about.
You can obviously get in sync in a lot of ways. Even if it would be fun and kind of amusingly inappropriate to sing a song together in the beginning of a team meeting, also a short tour de table on something personal appears to do the same trick. Don’t force it though as not everyone is willing to speak about their personal things at work.
Of course, you need to establish trust first to be able to share things about your private life with your colleagues. It also helps to have at least some common experiences outside work to lower barriers between people. Gathering around a shared hobby would be one of the most ideal activities to start building the required relationships for an open and trusting environment.
With virtual teams becoming more and more common, it’s necessary to put higher emphasis on building trust within the team. Having the team meet physically at least once in the early stages of forming a team is essential to lay a foundation for those meaningful bonds and deeper relationships.
Now, what are you waiting for? Get compassionate immediately and start performing better!