Wisdom//

The Best Compassionately Direct Advice We’ve Received

When we give honest feedback with empathy and kindness, we can help each other overcome challenges, grow, evolve, and unlock our potential.

Fizkes/ Shutterstock
Fizkes/ Shutterstock

The best pieces of feedback are the ones that show us where we need to course-correct, while also empowering us to make the change. Oftentimes, what makes that advice so effective is that it was delivered with compassionate directness. At Thrive, we define compassionate directness as empowering employees to speak up, give feedback, disagree, and surface problems, pain points and constructive criticism. And most importantly, we do it with compassion, empathy and understanding. 

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the best pieces of compassionately direct advice they’ve received. Which of these resonates with you?

“I’ve noticed you aren’t bringing your usual A-game.”

“One of the best pieces of feedback came from a mentor of mine, when she said to me, ‘I’ve noticed you aren’t bringing your usual A-game, and some of your frustrations are showing in your demeanor. Do you think you might be burned out?’ As an outsider, she could see my pain more clearly and she was totally right. I didn’t answer in that moment, but thanked her for her observations. I sat with the question for a while. That simple question allowed me to note how exhausted I was and how stressed I was. I eventually left the position to prioritize my mental health, to gain back my independence, and to support my family. I was so grateful to her for giving me permission to feel and to question what was going on.”

—Jacqueline Kerr, San Diego, CA

“People want to connect to the real you.”

“I was attending a program on behavioral science when my facilitator said to me, ‘You are a great coach, but people don’t always want to listen to the coach in you. They want to connect to the real you. They sometimes want your presence as a person and not a professional.’ That piece of feedback hit me hard. It was an eye-opener in the most compassionate way, and I’m grateful he was honest. Some life lessons are most effective when given with compassionate directness.”

—Aakriti Agarwal, coach and organizational psychologist, Hyderabad, India

“You don’t have to Type-A everything.”

“I’ve been through a lot of health challenges this past year. The treatments are varied, but being the overachiever that I am, I lament to my doctor often about the medical whack-a-mole I’ve been playing all year. She gave me the most compassionately direct advice: ‘You don’t have to Type-A everything.’ That advice stopped me dead in my tracks about how I’ve been approaching my health challenges. Every little step in the right direction is OK. I may not get an A+ in everything, but I need to give myself permission and grace to know that I am doing the best I can to heal, and that’s enough.”

—Joyel Crawford, leadership development coach and consultant, Westmont, NJ 

“I know you’re physically here, but it seems like you’re not mentally here.”

“I was on the cusp of a huge promotion when my father’s cancer returned aggressively. I was trying to give the work and family my all and doing both poorly. A colleague pulled me aside and said in a soft voice, ‘I know you’re physically here, but you’re not really here. Are you aware of the resources available to you to take some time off and focus on your family?’ I soon after started a three-month family medical leave, and it remains the best decision I’ve made in my life.”

—Donna Peters, executive coach and M.B.A. Faculty, Atlanta, GA

“Focus on what you can control.”

“My mentor told me after a workshop that the best thing I can do for myself and those around me when things are this uncertain is to focus on what I can control, instead of worrying about things outside my control and that don’t depend directly on me. This had such a massive impact on me and how I began showing up to everything I did. Shifting from a perspective that felt restrictive to a new view that felt liberating was a game-changer for me. This was the best and most honest advice I’ve ever received.” 

—Ana Jinga, integrative wellness educator, Calgary, AB, Canada 

“Show me what you can do.”

“At the start of my aerospace engineering career, I was asked to create detailed concept drawings for newly proposed items. After many hours of hard work, the system locked up, losing many hours of work. The loss was devastating and my frustration was noticed by the team. My boss put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Your hard work was not a total loss, even though you didn’t back it up. I’m not upset, and neither should you be because you were almost finished. You already know how to do it. I am sure it will be even better than your first draft. Now get to it and show me what you can do.’ Those words were just what I needed to hear at that crushing moment. Even though I didn’t believe him at the time, I was able to create another set of drawings in less time with better results.”

—Scott Miller, marketing director, Wilmington, DE

“You’ll succeed if you stop people-pleasing.”

“The most compassionately direct advice I ever received was from a professor when I was in graduate school, about to embark on my first internship. Dr. Sharon told me I was codependent and I would get eaten alive by clients if I didn’t get a grip. She was right. I thought I was just being nice, but I was disabling others from self-help and was stuck in a people-pleasing mindset. Fast forward many years, and now I have a book coming out on codependency recovery that helps others learn to be as good to themselves as they are to others. If not for Dr. Sharon’s compassionate directness, this quest would not have led me to heal and help others.”

—Mary Joye, licensed mental health counselor, FL

“You’re not acting like you deserve it — even though you know your stuff inside and out.”

“When I first started my career in engineering, I was young, short, and female. I did not have an engineering degree or an MBA. I was surrounded by older, tall men with several technical degrees in their resumes. When I spoke, I was usually interrupted or ignored. I sat down with an engineering colleague to complain. He listened and said to me, ’It’s not because you are a woman and short that people aren’t paying attention to you. It’s because you’re not acting like you deserve it — even though you know your stuff inside and out.’ It was true! I wasn’t acting like I deserved success. I wasn’t showing off my knowledge and talent because I was too scared. That feedback was a real wake-up call for me.I decided to look at my negative beliefs and change them. And once I did, I had momentum going for me and my self-confidence started to soar.”

—Rosemary Yeremian, engineering company president, Toronto, ON, Canada

“You’re reluctant to speak up, which is a shame because when you do, you make some great points.”

“A college professor of mine once showed me a letter of recommendation she had written for me. The application had asked her to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. She wrote that my weakness was that I was reluctant to speak up in class, which she felt was a shame since I made some great points when I did. After she shared that feedback with me, I was never shy about speaking up in class again. And when students in my classes don’t speak up enough, I pull them aside and give them the same direct and compassionate advice.” 

—Jill Goldenziel, professor, Washington, D.C.

“Make the ask and then count to ten.”

“After freelancing for 17 years, I recently re-entered the corporate world. As a fast-talking, high-energy Irish-Canadian, I know I can present like a well-meaning whirling dervish at times. A great piece of advice I received was to make the ask and then count to ten in my head, creating space for those around the table to marinate the ideas and offer their input. It’s been an invaluable tool as I navigate fresh waters and continue my quest of lifelong learning.”

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker and life coach, Toronto, ON, Canada

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