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Awakening Compassion at Work – Monica Worline (POY 38)

Monica Worline has co-authored a book about the benefits of compassion at work, and about how we can make our workplaces better for everyone.

Monica Worline has co-authored a book about the benefits of compassion at work, and about how we can make our workplaces better for everyone.

About Monica and Awakening Compassion at Work

Even the most well-meaning people face disagreements at work from time to time. Monica Worline, who is arguably one of the world’s foremost experts on compassion in the workplace, is no exception.

“I have a colleague that I work with closely,” Monica told me. “We were working on a website redesign project that had gotten really stalled.”

“I got called into some other kind of urgent work,” she said. “I assumed my colleague would reach out to me if she really needed me.”

Monica explained that she did not hear from her colleague about the project for a while. Eventually, Monica reached out to her about another work-related matter.

“I heaped on about something else that wasn’t working. She was already handling more than her share. She kindly said, ‘Why are you bringing me yet another problem when I’m still managing this whole other bundle of problems?’”

Monica quickly realized this as a moment to apply what she had been studying for the past fifteen years.

Why her work matters

“It creates a lot of pain when processes don’t work well,” Monica said. “People start to get interpersonally irritated with each other.”

Monica and her co-author, Jane Dutton, wrote the book Awakening Compassion at Work to help us address problems like these in our workplaces. In short, they observe that moments like these can compound on one another to create suffering, which can take the joy, the humanity, and the motivation out of our relationships on the job.

We can all agree that some organizations are better to work for than others. Monica and Jane argue this is due to how they are structured to deal with suffering. Awakening Compassion at Work serves as a manual on how to build organizations to be more compassionate and more humane—not just in the workplace, but any organization.

Monica told me that the benefits shown by more compassionate organizations include greater financial resilience and increased levels of employee engagement, which leads to increased client engagement and retention. More compassionate workplaces also show a greater capacity for innovation, as the risk of trying new things and failing is greatly reduced. The book features several stories of organizations and coworkers demonstrating behaviors like these.

Referring back to her own encounter, Monica mentioned to me that her colleague had already been experiencing emotional pain because of their website redesign project. By approaching her with another problem, Monica had unintentionally increased her colleague’s pain.

“It all came from good intentions,” she said. “My colleague wasn’t reaching out to me for help because she was trying to be kind to me.”

She added, “Communication breakdowns and process breakdowns are space where work itself creates suffering for people.”

Monica Worline and Jane Dutton, authors of Awakening Compassion at Work.
Monica Worline and Jane Dutton wrote Awakening Compassion at Work to help us reduce suffering in our organizations. (Source)

How you can make a difference

I asked Monica what anyone could do to make their organizations more compassionate. She summarized the four-step interpersonal model she and Jane developed from their research:

  1. Noticing suffering when it may be present in someone else;
  2. Interpreting the suffering, believing that the person is worthy of compassion;
  3. Feeling empathic concern and wanting the person to be well again;
  4. Taking action to alleviate that person’s suffering.

She also summarized a second four-step model from the book, which outlines how to restructure an organization’s processes to be more considerate of the people they involve.

As for the disagreement Monica shared between her and her colleague, she said the resolution is a work in progress. She believes her colleague needs time to process the event on her own. “I also have to be a little compassionate with myself,” she said, noting that she did her best under the circumstances and that she has to respect those choices.

“I think almost anybody who does any kind of work can relate to an example like that.”

Now what?

Homework for you

If you’d like to encourage more compassion in your workplace or in some other organization you’re a part of, you can start with the first four steps Monica shared in her model.

This will depend on a willingness not only to see change happen, but to improvise and to be attentive to needs that arise between you and your coworkers, emotionally speaking. Some moments might feel weird at first, and you have to be careful about pushing the compassionate approach too hard, but you can change bring about some of the benefits Monica described with enough time and effort.

Further reading

What Do You Think?

I’d love to talk about your thoughts on this story or anything you’d like to share. Please email me below, leave a comment or message on Facebook, or tweet me @pluralofyou.

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