Far from being soft and fluffy compassion is overlooked in how it contributes to both in terms of our humanity and the surprising impact it has on business. For some time now, empathy has been a focus of thought leaders, and we are about to see how compassion which includes empathy is even more powerful. I have been thinking about how it shows up around us and where it is lacking. What I’ve come to realise is compassion has levels to it and we can tell a lot about an organisation depending on where they sit currently on the scale. A model provides a framework for how to become more compassionate and reap the benefits along the way.
The compassion scale is the degree to which and how we accept differences in others. Let’s face it when we experience differences be that in gender, race knowledge experience age, etc., often we have different reactions to those differences. If you think about it, as human beings we find it difficult to accept all people as they are, warts and all. So, there are degrees of compassion that we show genuine care and consideration and how we deal with people that are different to us.
The model that I’m going to take you through has five levels. We Reject difference; we Tolerate difference, we Acknowledge, Leverage or finally Embrace difference. Let’s start with rejecting it. When we reject, we are actively not compassionate and actively disrespectful, we totally lack in compassion, and here behaviour gives away that mindset or that belief set: We are not demonstrating compassion actively and intentionally. We ostracise people that are different to us, we deliberately avoid them in decision making and including their feedback or seeking out their ideas. We may even chastise them in person, or we belittle them, or we discriminate in some way in how we deal with them. These are below the line behaviours. You could say the first level of dealing with or accepting difference is below the line, we don’t view other human beings as worthy. As such it is below the line in terms of compassion.
The next level is the first of the above the line behaviours, and this is tolerated difference. When we merely tolerate difference, it’ really about indifference. When we are indifferent, we put up with other people that are not like us: We tend just to hear them (mostly because we have to); we put up with them with co-existing with them in our space. We understand those differences are there, but we try and avoid having to deal with them. We are not actively nasty to them, and we still show respect on that level. But its indifference in terms of really acknowledging diversity as a positive attribute and that they are worthy of compassion.
Then the next level is acknowledged, and here we become self-aware, and we start to understand that differences have a place. This is especially in business or in leadership where we see time and time again in the research, where we have a diverse team, they outperform a coherent, cohesive team in terms of innovation, collaboration, productivity, and output. So, there is something about bridging differences and authentically accepting people for who they are to the table and how that produces results. At this level, we are just acknowledging difference we are not intentionally making use of them. What we do is recognise there is diversity in the team, or we have a lot of different views or perspectives on various subjects. At this level, we acknowledge difference, and we are self-aware. And, yet we are blind to the latent opportunity cost. While you recognise that each of your team members has a different point of view and background, it can be superficial. Part of opportunity cost is the value of their divergent thinking in the day to day operations is not utilised. Meeting quotas could be at play here.
The now level is leverage; it’s where you start to recognise that difference have powerful opportunities if we are strategic about how we use those differences in very specific ways such as problem solving, innovating, working as a group, if you have a team with distinct different skills and different thinking you can bring people together intentionally to get better outcomes than we would if we were not to deliberately foster divergent thinking. Here we show compassion and acceptance for those different views by creating space and opportunity to explore those differences in a way that’s not hostile. So here we would hear different people speak with different perspectives and we would see enquiry as to people trying to understand those different perspectives as opposed to where we reject it where we shut people down and discourage them from participating. Here we start to see the innovation and productivity benefits that come that are synonymous with seeing diversity in the workplace particularly.
The last level of the model is where we move from seeing difference as a tactical manoeuvre to embracing the differences and all they have to offer. At the leverage level, we still see it as a kind of gameplay versus at the embrace level we genuinely seek to understand the values of people; and we embrace all of the difference, and it becomes intrinsic to who we are. Each person understands their point of contribution and feels able to contribute and play, and often it doesn’t even need a leader to drive it; it leads itself. So at the leverage level, it is used, it strategic and intentional at the embrace level is integrated, it’s intrinsic, it’s the culture, it’s the ‘norm’, it how we do things around here. It doesn’t necessarily need ‘a’ leader; anybody in that space could lead it’s inclusive.
Interestingly, this model also applies to us. We can see our strengths, or we can reject them. We can reject ourselves, or we can tolerate ourselves and never think about ourselves.