• Priya Venkatesan

Empathy and Self Compassion


The starting point and ending point of a circle is the same.

Sometimes what we think as polar opposites traits are just non-linear progressions on a continuum.

Lets take empathy and self-compassion as examples.


Empathy is about being concerned about the human being and not just about their output.

~Simon Sinek


Empathy is a cornerstone of inspiring leadership.

Most leaders who want to grow upwards in their organisation want to build their empathy levels for their teams and organisation. It is often a goal for some of my clients who work more on the ‘Driving’ style of leadership.


This process of building empathy is about building 3 different sub-qualities.

  • park your judgement (remove your shoes)

  • listen to the other

  • put yourself in other’s shoes


Lets start with parking our judgement. It might sound paradoxical to hear that something about the 'self' can serve the other. However its very important to note that we can park our judgement of the other only when we learn to park our judgement on ourself. Its because, if we cannot look at ourselves with kindness, when we fail our own standards, and accept who we are, there is no way we can show it to the other.


Self compassion is not the same as selfishness - which is to serve one’s own agenda. Self compassion is the awareness that as leaders we are human too.


According to Dr Kristin Neff, PhD, self-compassion can be considered to have two parts represented by yin and yang (Chinese duality concept).


Courtesy: PositivePsychology


The three core components of self-compassion according to Dr. Neff’s model are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness of suffering.

Self kindness manifests as Yin (comforting) and Yang (protecting).

When someone feels that he/she did not match their own standards, self-kindness Yin style would involve comforting self with music, sports, get-together, etc

Yang will involve taking an action - like strategising how to be better, seeking out mentors etc to prevent the situation from occurring in the future.


Common humanity’ is the ability to feel that we are not alone in suffering and the rest of the world also have theirs to resolve. When we understand this, we become mindful of our suffering and others suffering.


So how does self compassion help in developing empathy?

To park our judgement, we need an ability to be mindful of our suffering and others suffering. We also need to know that we belong to common humanity and the other person is not alone just as we are not.

When we realise the above, judgement gets dropped and then we can listen to the other.

When we are in our head trying to protect our agenda - there is no real listening. When there is no listening, empathy is far off.


So if you are to become an empathetic leader today, start with self compassion.

Here are some steps that you can can help you to park your judgement on yourself first.

  1. Identify one thing you can do to comfort / put yourself at ease. Do it at the earliest.

  2. Identify one valid reason why you should be feeling upset.

  3. Understand what need of yours is causing you to feel upset. Find alternate ways of satisfying that need.

  4. Identify one thing you can do to ensure that you can handle it better next time and protect yourself.

When you are through with the above, if you want to build empathy for the other, you can proceed this way:

5. Identify one thing you can do to comfort the other.

6. Voice what could be the reason they could be upset.

7. Ask what need of the other was met with their action.

8. Listen actively to the other.

9. Find one thing you can start/stop to help the other. Ask their views about the same and with

their concurrence implement it.


What action can you take today to be a little better in demonstrating empathy?


#leadershipcoaching #coaching #empathy #selfcompassion #executivecoaching



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