If you have worked in coalitions and partnerships for a month or longer, you know that coalition work is all about relationships. Although there are many principles and practices that will support relationship-building, one of the most powerful is practicing compassion. One of the misconceptions about compassion is that if we demonstrate compassion, we are no longer creating a culture of accountability. Compassion does not have to be separated from accountability. As we practice compassion, we are creating a shared understanding and support that encourages accountability because we value the person more than what the person does..
In Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown defines compassion in this way: “Compassion is fueled by understanding and accepting that we’re all made of strength and struggle – no one is immune to pain or suffering. Compassion is not a practice of ‘better than’ or ‘I can fix you’ – it’s a practice based in the beauty and pain of shared humanity.”
Compassion involves all aspects of our coalitions – the people in the coalition, the people we serve and ourselves. Join me this week as I highlight how we can practice compassion in all three areas of our coalition work.
Compassion for our partners.
We work alongside people who have a shared mission and common cause yet also have a lot happening in their own lives. As we engage with our partners, one aspect of compassion is understanding that we do not know all that they are experiencing right now – both good and bad. We do not know whether their work situation is positive and supportive or whether they are currently managing the demands of a difficult boss. We also often do not know what is happening in other important aspects of their lives. One of the ways to practice compassion is to seek to understand the other person’s perspective and context. We can also show kindness to the person and be willing to listen to their perspective and give space for their own story. When we demonstrate kindness and genuine care for our partners, we are practicing compassion. This compassion will support our relationships and help us more effectively work together.
Compassion for the people we serve.
Similar to our partners, we often do not know what the people we serve are experiencing. One of the ways to enhance compassion is to include their stories as part of the conversation and our meetings. Take time to get to know more about the population you would like to reach and listen to their perspectives and what is important to them. Consider beginning and/or ending your coalition meetings with a story and experience from the people you are serving. For instance, one of the groups I work with is hosting a meeting focused on lung cancer awareness and we have lung cancer survivors who would like to share part of their story with the group. Depending on the meeting (and the audience), some people may not feel comfortable sharing their story. Demonstrate compassion by asking permission to include their story in whatever way they would be most comfortable. As we recognize our shared humanity, we are able to increase our compassion practice and better serve those most impacted by the work of our coalitions.
Compassion for ourselves.
In our coalition work, we may excel at demonstrating compassion to our partners and those we serve but forget to practice compassion for ourselves. We are also human and compassion includes recognizing our own strength, struggle and pain. Compassion practice impacts compassion in every direction. If we are practicing compassion toward others, this can help us increase compassion for ourselves. If we are practicing compassion for ourselves, then we can also increase our compassion for others. One of my favorite self compassion exercises includes a meditation focused on what you would say to a friend who was struggling. If your friend told you that she was feeling overwhelmed, what would you say? Would you say, “Oh yes, that is because you are a failure and always end up overwhelmed again. You can’t ever seem to get it right.” No! You would find ways to be supportive and encouraging. Self compassion is giving yourself grace and listening to the advice you would give your best friend, mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter.
When we find ourselves struggling with compassion, we may be in a place of overwhelm (again!). If you would like additional support in escaping the overwhelm and practicing self-compassion, check out my free Masterclass Recording, Escape the Overwhelm.