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Struggling with compassionate conversations?

5 Steps for People Managers


“Your life may have changed, but the world keeps on turning”.


That was the rather clumsy message delivered to me, aged 17, by my manager when my dad suddenly passed away.


And it's right isn’t it?


Only at the time it didn’t feel right. I’d just lost my dad and I was expected to just man up and get on with it.


That was the last time it was mentioned in the office.


At the time, I believed this was the way we had to deal with things; stiff upper lip, not bringing your personal life to work, because it was all I had experienced.


Fast forward to today and I’m relieved that on the whole we experience a more compassionate workplace. And yet, the same challenges remain.


Some People Managers still struggle to find the right words to have compassionate conversations with their teams.


Worse still, some avoid it because they don’t know what to say or do or they don’t feel comfortable having the conversation. It’s the same as people crossing over the road to avoid having to speak to you isn’t it?


So how can you be better supported and prepared for these types of conversations?


Here are 5 ways to help.



1. Observe

Get to know your team

  • Invite them to share details of their family and personal life

  • Call them simply to see how they are, without talking about business

  • Ask them how they are really feeling

  • Share your own feelings and some of your own personal challenges


2. Actively listen

Put aside distractions and completely focus on the conversation

  • Don’t answer phones, check emails or look for a quick exit

  • Check your body language

  • Positively affirm that you are present (nod head, facial expression)

  • Connect with their feeling in your response e.g.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through”

“I don’t know what to say”

“You’re not alone”

“I’m here for you”

“I’m so glad you told me”


3. Ask Questions

Ask open questions to encourage a conversation

  • “How are you feeling about …”

  • “How are you handling …”

  • “How are you finding…”

4. Acknowledge

Some people may feel that their feelings shouldn’t be brought into the workplace, so by acknowledging what they’ve said you provide the psychological safety and permission that they need. Try things like:

  • “That makes sense”

  • “I understand”

  • “I can appreciate that”

5. Offer support

By offering support you move an empathic conversation into a compassionate one. Try questions like:

  • “How can I help?”

  • “What can I do?”

  • “What do you need?”


Why Compassion is important for People Managers

Neuroscience shows that too much empathy (ie putting yourself in the other person’s shoes) can cause stress and burnout as the same brain regions are activated in both the person suffering and the person empathising.


Alternatively, compassion produces feelings of concern, warmth, trust and motivation to help the other person.


Research shows that compassionate leaders are

  • preferred among employees

  • more popular

  • more comfortable to talk to

  • more positive in giving honest feedback

  • and they inspire others to follow them


If you feel that you or your People Managers are struggling to have these kind of conversations, or that you’d find value in some additional support, do get in touch. I’ll be very happy to share how I’m working with other clients who share similar challenges.


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