Learning Compassion

December 13, 2020
Mary Jo Asmus

Our lives are full of emotion, often played out at work. If you, as the leader, can take the initiative to recognize when someone needs some compassion and express it appropriately, it may go a long way toward making your workplace a better place to be. People want to know that you have a heart, and expressing compassion is one way to do so.

Sounds soft? Think you’ll be seen as weak? Not at all. Compassion shows that you care. And that is exactly what others need to do their best at work.

Even if compassion doesn’t come naturally to you, there are some things that you can learn to do to feel (genuine) compassion. Genuine compassion is real; if you pretend to care, it will be noticed and rejected immediately. Here are some things you can do to increase your level of compassion toward others:

Practices that help you to learn to care


Regular readers will recognize that I often mention better listening as a way to alleviate a lot of other behaviors that detract from good leadership. Good listening works for increasing compassion too. As you focus on listening better, you also understand others’ situations better. Listen well, and avoid trying to “fix” others by providing your opinions and solutions. Sometimes, deep listening is all that is needed to learn to care more.


Study others who show compassion. What are they saying and doing? How are others reacting to their caring actions? Mother Theresa may seem an extreme example of compassionate action, but you may find it worthwhile to read about her. Additionally, Marc Ian Barasch’s book called “The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness” (or it’s predecessor, “Field Notes on A Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness“) are my favorites on compassion, with lots of examples of how people – and animals(!) – show compassion.


Remember, compassion requires that you put your judgment aside. Try to see the plight of your friends, enemies, those who are different from you, as well as those who are like you. Try to grasp their thought process in the situation and avoid using your own principles and values to judge them. Compassion doesn’t judge. If you can understand their side, then perhaps you can learn to express sympathy with their situation.


For many of you, learning to be more compassionate with yourself first is the key to becoming more compassionate with others. You may be very tough on yourself, judging your thoughts, words, and actions harshly. Learn to care more for yourself, to be kind and forgive yourself, and compassion for others may come easier to you.

I won’t pretend that any of this is easy. I work hard and fail miserably at it daily. I do my best to keep at it, and over time, intentional practice is bringing compassion into my life; yet I often get sidetracked with my own stuff. I’ve learned that persistence and practice are key.

Show that you care

Let others know that you care by expressing your sympathy and offering to help when it makes sense to do so. Let them know that your door is open to further discussion, should they need it.

More From Mary Jo Asmus

Lifting Others with Your Words

When You Want to Know What Others Think

Five Daily Opportunities to Deepen Work Relationships

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small-sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.

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