One of the most common issues I’m hearing at events over the past few months is: “We’re great at caring for our customers, but we’re having a hard time showing compassion for one another!”
Why do we sometimes neglect to show compassion for the people closest to us?
I call this the “familial effect.” Think about it. Don’t you catch yourself sometimes being short, impatient or even rude to members of your family? We would be horrified to catch ourselves treating a complete stranger the way we sometimes treat those closest to us.
This doesn’t happen suddenly. We slowly evolve into these behaviors as we become more familiar with each other. Think about your first date with your current spouse or partner. Now think about the last time you were frustrated with them. Was the dialog a little different?
The same is true in our organizations––especially those where people are close and genuinely care about one another. In small groups or departments, the effect is often amplified.
It happens because we trust one another. We literally “let our hair down” with the people we trust. We know that these people are not going to abandon us if we have an off moment and we assume they always know when we’re joking.
The problem is that as close as two people can be in the workplace, and as much as we use the word “family” to describe our closest work relationships, the plain fact is we’re NOT family. People can and do leave when they feel uncomfortable––and any of us can be replaced if our behaviors negatively affect the people around us.
The problem usually manifests when someone says something thoughtlessly. Instead of taking the time to be polite, we’re short or abrupt. We might thoughtlessly joke with someone unaware that they’re going through a difficult period and may be raw and sensitive.
Haven’t you ever had one of those, “Oh my God––I didn’t know!” moments?
In a real family, we are usually aware of most of what’s going on with the people we live with. We literally can’t escape it. Of course, disconnects happen in families too, but they’re even more likely at work were people may be reserved about personal issues.
The solution is simple––but not easy. Practice the discipline of Respect.
At nearly every SENSEI LEADER event from keynote to workshop I ask for a definition of the word “respect.” It’s a word we use every day––but most people find it very difficult to really define.
Typical responses are:
“Do unto others…”
“Treat people as you would like to be treated.”
These are all great ways to show respect––but there is a deeper meaning that has a much more direct and effective application.
Years ago I asked a group of elementary school kids to define “respect.” One young man stood up, bowed and said…
“Sensei, respect means taking care of one another.”
Have you ever heard a better definition? All I could do to respond was to return his bow and say, “Kid––you got it!”
From that moment on I’ve adopted that definition of respect. And with the benefit of hindsight I have to acknowledge that in that moment, that young man changed my life.
Now, this isn’t easy––especially with people you see every day! This is why I call respect a “discipline”––a meaningful and purposeful habit. And any discipline requires constant practice.
We need to practice paying attention. This means looking for signs that someone may be in a vulnerable mindset or may not be receptive to teasing or joking.
It means taking the time to be polite. It means acknowledging one another, even with a simple greeting or some kind words again––even when we’re in a hurry.
It means “taking care” with our words and actions instead of being “careless.”
We all need support and encouragement at work. We all desire some measure of respect and compassion from the people we share our day with. We also need to model the behaviors we expect from others.
Of course, we’re all going to have our slips from time to time. The standard I’m laying out here is impossible. But perfection is not a destination––it’s a never-ending process. The more we practice the discipline of Respect the more we will express genuine compassion to the people around us every day. And the more compassion and respect we’re willing to share in the world––the more we will receive in kind.