The ability to act with empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence is an important element to your success, both personal and professional. Compassion may come naturally to you — a handful of studies suggest that responding with it is part of our biological make-up — but it’s still vital to be mindful of how we show up for others, as there’s always room to improve.
We asked members of the Thrive community to describe the experiences that made them more compassionate people.
Offering support to someone who didn’t want it
“Early in my career, I had a male boss who would sit in his office and yell at his female secretary instead of walking to her desk to speak to her. Finally, I went to her and shared that I was sorry she had to put up with his behavior and that it was not right. Instead of thanking me for my compassion, she told me it did not bother her, and it was fine. I did not understand at the time, but I was trying to provide empathy and compassion to someone who did not want it. I am now more aware that a person has to be ready to receive empathy, otherwise it comes off as pity. I think true compassion is knowing how and when to offer comfort to those around us. It is not always received in the spirit it is offered.”
—Jo Ann Burkhalter, consultant, Auburn, AL
Losing a job early on
“Losing a job I relied on and self-identified with early on in my career gave me more compassion and empathy for those who are between jobs. I experienced the depression, anxiety, and uncertainty that can come with a job loss, and that experience gives my work of helping people bounce back that much more resonance and meaning.”
—Stephanie Thoma, career coach, San Francisco, CA
Leaning in to children’s sense of humanity
“A teacher friend of mine was teaching math to a class of six-year-olds, a number of whom were recently-arrived refugees from other countries. The topic was fractions. My friend defined what a half and a quarter were, and then asked the children to write down whether they would prefer a half or a quarter of a chocolate bar. As she walked around the room, she noticed that some of the new students wrote they would prefer a quarter of the chocolate bar. My friend thought she would have to re-teach the lesson, as they didn’t appear to understand that a half was bigger than a quarter. She asked the students why they would prefer a quarter of the chocolate bar and one little girl replied, ‘So that more people could have a piece of chocolate.’ I cried when I heard that story. It reminded me how beautiful humanity is if we take a moment to notice it.”
—Siobhan Kukolic, author, speaker, and life coach, Toronto, Canada
Learning from a lack of empathy
There was a difficult time in my life a few years back when I did not receive any compassion. It hurt me, and at the same time, made me realise there must be so many out there who need nothing more than a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. It was during this time that something within me changed. Since then, I have pushed myself to be consciously compassionate.”
—Aakriti Agarwal, coach and facilitator, Hyderabad, India
Becoming a mother
“Becoming a mother completely changed my emotions and senses. I became more aware of things around me, and I found my intuition really heightened in a way that serves me daily in my business. It guides me in who I work with, and enables me to better help my clients. More often than not, I don’t end up where I want to be when I listen to my head rather than my intuition. Learning how to trust that intuition has enabled me to teach my clients how to do the same, and keep their businesses aligned with their vision.”
—Anne Clark, project manager and coach, Melbourne, Australia
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