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A Call to Be Kind: Building Self-Compassion and Practicing it in the Workplace

May 6 -12, 2024 is the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Mental Health Week. This year, the theme is “A Call to Be Kind.” 


We all have the capacity to be compassionate, and we know that doing so can make an enormous difference in someone else’s life. 


Exploring Compassion

Compassion encompasses many traits: patience, kindness, acceptance, understanding, and forgiveness. It is our ability as humans to empathize and feel concern for the challenges and suffering of others, and it usually creates an inner motivation to help those in need.


Our help can either be action-oriented, or by providing emotional, physical, spiritual, or mental support to others. Either way, it invokes a genuine desire within us to contribute positively to the well-being of others. 


On Self-Compassion

Do you find the idea of compassion easier to understand when you relate it to someone else? We can feel compassion for many people in our lives - our family and friends, our community, or even for those that we don’t have personal relationships with, like those who are experiencing tragedy across the world. However, have you ever considered what your self-compassion looks like?


The amount of compassion you have for others is often linked to your own level of self-compassion. There is a common saying: “You can’t pour from a cup that is empty.” This is applicable to many areas of life - your physical energy, mental capacity, emotional capabilities, and yes - your ability to be compassionate. If you’re used to speaking to yourself in a negative  way, you may think it’s also okay to speak to others with pessimism. If you believe that suffering is inevitable, then your capacity to be empathetic to the struggles of others could be lessened. 


Practicing self-compassion is to pour into your own cup. It’s a way of choosing to be kind, understanding, empathetic, and forgiving to your own experiences. When you treat yourself with an unconditional sense of self-compassion, you’re giving yourself the gift of confidence, assuredness, positivity, and success in navigating life. 


At its core, self-compassion is a demonstration of self-love. Just as you would speak kindly to someone you love, the way that you speak to yourself is also a good indicator of how much you value yourself and believe you are worthy of being kind towards. 


A good place to start practicing more self-compassion is to change the way you talk to yourself. Being aware of your inner monologue and being intentional in changing it can help you reframe negative thoughts into positive ones. 


For example:


A negative thought:

  • I don’t have the skills to finish this before the deadline!


Positive reframing:

  • I’m not perfect, but I can still try my very best to finish on time. If I can’t, what are some tools that can help me do better next time?


Try to evaluate your thoughts objectively, and don’t be too hard on yourself during this process. Remember, you are not doing this to judge yourself but to help you thrive. Try to keep open-minded and allow yourself to be okay with what you find.



Bringing Compassion Into the Workplace

A recent study found that 71% of Canadian employees reported that their mental health impacted their ability to work. A compassionate and supportive workplace fosters many benefits to the employer and employees, and has been linked to higher job satisfaction, loyalty and trust in the organization, higher retention rates, and improvements in performance and motivation. 


The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work - that’s one-third of our lifetime! So why not create a safe and supportive environment for yourself and your colleagues?


How We Can Be Compassionate Coworkers

Regularly connecting with your colleagues is an essential part of professional relationships. Forming authentic relationships with our colleagues is an important aspect of creating compassionate workplace cultures. When we find or create deliberate opportunities for real connection at work, we increase our opportunity for openness and trust. 


Some steps to be a compassionate coworker:


  1. Promote Open Communication: Express genuine concern and interest in colleagues during your interaction, and try to encourage and practice open and honest communication with them. This creates a safe environment where coworkers can feel comfortable to express their thoughts, concerns, and needs without the fear of judgements or repercussions. 

  2. Listen Actively: Active listening is a skill that requires the listener to be fully engaged with the speaker, trying to understand the meaning and emotions behind their words, without the need to interrupt or rush to respond. Some key components of active listening include giving your undivided attention, making eye contact to focus on the conversation, and using verbal and non-verbal cues to show you are paying attention. 

  3. Validate their Emotions & Experiences: Everyone has a different background, worldview, upbringing, and life experiences. Recognizing this and being non-judgmental during your interactions will shape a compassionate co-working relationship. 

  4. Offer Supportive Leadership: Leaders are key players in shaping the workplace culture. Compassionate leaders demonstrate empathy, understanding, and an active appreciation and concern for their employee’s wellbeing. Modeling compassionate behavior will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

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