Why Compassion is Greater than Empathy

1024 576 David DeWolf

An awful lot of ink has been spilled on the importance of empathy in the workplace. While being able to put yourself in others’ shoes and experience the world as others see it is vital, I’ll take compassion over empathy any day. I see compassion as the intersection of empathy and action. If empathy is the point at which you can feel someone else’s pain, compassion is the point at which you can actually start doing something to alleviate it.

So how does compassion “play” in the business world? These are just a few ways compassion can improve company culture, customer experience, and more. 

Compassion respects that there is much more to life than work.    

If the last year and a half have taught us anything, it’s that work is only a part of our lives. Times of crisis especially require the recognition that health and family are higher priorities than work. 3Pillar has a large presence in Noida, India. As Covid ravaged the country and the world, around 20% of our team members in India contracted Covid. We even lost three team members to the pandemic, which was incredibly tough. Since then, we’ve also lost another member of the 3Pillar family in Mexico.

While the losses have been devastating, we are committed to helping our team members and their families stay safe and healthy. In addition to implementing a global remote work policy early in the pandemic, we’ve also arranged to support efforts to procure emergency oxygen and vaccines for our team in India as often as possible.

As I wrote about recently, I contracted COVID last December and was absolutely floored by it for two weeks. Having gone through this experience may have made it easier for me to be compassionate, but so many of these efforts were driven by individuals throughout the organization without any of my own involvement. I’m convinced that our human-centric culture enabled this compassionate response. 

Compassion leads you to dig deeper.  

When you feel and act with compassion, you will get deeper insights than if you take everything you’re told at face value. Take a simple utterance like, “I’m having a great day.” Depending on the delivery, tone, and intonation, it can mean that someone’s having a great day, or it can mean that they’re having a dreadful day.

Don’t take everything you hear at face value because the true problem may not be well-defined yet. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions to get to the root of issues, and always exercise your “reading between the lines” muscles. The latter is especially important when dealing with team members or clients in different cultures. Our team in India, for example, is typically more conflict-averse than our team in the US, which is in turn typically more conflict-averse than our team in Romania. This is neither good nor bad. It just is. I know when I’m dealing with a sensitive issue in India, I may need to ask 3 or 4 more questions to get to the root cause of whatever the issue is than I might need to ask in Romania. 

Compassion allows you to part ways with dignity and grace.

I’ve written in the past about why how you end a relationship with a client is a key component of customer experience. Not many customer relationships last forever. If you buy into the premise of peak-end theory, which posits that people judge an experience based on how they felt at its peak and by how the experience ends, the way you end a customer relationship takes on new importance. 

The same is true of the employee experience. I know that where people choose to work is a huge, and hugely personal, decision. I also know that the days of the “company man” who works at one company for his or her entire career are really far in the rear-view. People who have been huge parts of 3Pillar’s evolution graduate to bigger roles or start their own companies all the time. I don’t begrudge team members who go this route. In fact, I almost always tell them that they’re welcome back any time. Not only does this ease any stress they may be feeling around a major life event, but many former team members have also taken me up on the offer, or will in the future.

Wrapping it up: Why compassion is good for business

Operating with compassion is what helps you go from empathy to action. For companies like 3Pillar that are in the services business, we’re only as good as the people (and clients) we attract and retain. With many people rethinking what work means to them, treating all your stakeholders with compassion is a must to build a lasting business. Not only that, but, it’s the right way to treat others.