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6 Exercises To Strengthen Compassionate Leadership

| December 11, 2012

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is “6 Exercises To Strengthen Compassionate Leadership” and was written by Andrew Newberg, an M.D. and author, who with Mark Robert Waldman has written the book “Words Can Change Your Brain.”  Newberg is also Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College and  Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Newberg begins his essay:  “want loyal dedicated, and passionate employees?  Be a loyal, dedicated, and compassionate boss.”  He continues:  “When you use compassionate communication in your conversations, something quite surprising occurs:  both your brain and the brain of the person you’re talking with begin to align themselves with each other.  This special bond is a phenomenon referred to as ”neural resonance,“ and the enhanced stage of mutual attachment, two people can accomplish remarkable things together.  Why?  Because it eliminates the natural defensiveness that normally exists when people casually converse.”

The capacity to deeply relate to others is a key to all forms of relationship success.  For example, “leaders who give the least amount of positive guidance to their subordinates are less successful in achieving their organizations’ goals, and the employees are unhappier in their work.”  And, such leaders generate more interpersonal conflicts in their teams.

So, what might one do to become a more compassionate leader?  Newberg suggests six practices:

1.  Stay present.  If you focus on your breathing and relaxation, you will pull your attention into the present.  In turn you can become very aware of the subtle things happening immediately around you.

2.  Cultivate inner silence.  As we try to remain “present,” the spontaneous cascade of inner thoughts, speech, and cognition clammers for our attention.  Research has shown that through practice we can control this disruption.  Newberg says that the more you think about not thinking the more you gain voluntary control over the brain’s spontaneous cascade.  This silence enables us to give our fullest attention to what others say.

 3.  Access a pleasant memory.  Research has shown that inviting a conversation with an expression that conveys kindness, compassion, and interest.  Such an expression happens naturally when we access pleasant memories, particularly ones that involve people you love and respect.  When your conversation partner sees this expression, it stimulates a feeling of trust.  And, for you, it takes you into a deeper state or relaxation.  The end result is contentment that gives rise to mutually benevolent engagements.

4.  Observe nonverbal cues.  It’s essential to keep your eyes on your conversational partner.  Your look should not be invasive but rather be one cultivated by a pleasant memory.  Such eye contact decreases stress hormones and increases those that enhance empathy, social cooperation, and positive communication.

5.  Speak briefly.  Compassionate communication has a basic rule – keep it short, about 30 seconds or less.  Talk and then wait for an acknowledgement that you have been heard and understood before you continue.

6.  Listen deeply.  To listen deeply you have to train your mind to stay focused on the person who is speaking – their words, gestures, facial cues, indeed everything.  Listening carefully is one of the most precious gifts you can give someone.  When they pause, you need to respond specifically to what they have just said.

Lots in this short piece for you to try and over time put into practice.  You do this, and your staff (and others close to you) will see you as a more compassionate leader.


Have a great week.  .  .  .    jim