Compassion Is More Than A Feeling

Some people think that empathy and compassion are synonymous. They aren’t, because compassion is more than a feeling.

You have to actually do something to be compassionate. So others have suggested that compassion is “empathy in action.”

“Empathy in action” definition limits compassion

  • It makes compassion dependent on empathy.
  • It relies on a shared emotional experience.
  • It precludes other motivators of compassion.

What motivates you to show compassion?

While empathy is a great motivator for compassionate behavior, it’s not the only one.


The practice of compassion can be motivated by emotions, e.g. “I feel for her. I’ve been through something similar so I can relate.” This is what most people view as empathy, an emotional experience that connects people. In this case, compassion indeed is empathy in action.


It can be motivated by logical analysis, e.g. “I have skills that could help. By serving on the Habitat for Humanity board, I could use those skills to help a family have a home.” This would redefine compassion as thoughts in action.


It can be motivated by principles and values, e.g. “I believe that every child deserves a stable adult role-model, so I will volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.” Now compassion is equated with values in action.


It can be motivated by guilt, e.g. “I feel so badly that I have more than enough to eat while others are starving.” Here, compassion is simply a form of making things right.

Compassion without emotions?

“But how can you really be compassionate without an emotional component?” you might ask.

You can’t. Compassion isn’t possible without Openness, which means emotional transparency; valuing the emotional experience of our selves and others. Empathy is only one of three ways to do this.

Two more ways to be open

Validation, which is the act of affirming and valuing another person’s emotional motives and experiences. e.g. “Your feelings matter. It’s OK to be upset. I’m listening.”

Validation is not empathy. It does not rely on shared emotional experiences, although it needs to be sincere.

The third way to practice openness is disclosure, which is the act of sharing your own emotional motives and experiences, e.g. “I’m angry about what happened last night,” or “I want to feel safe in this relationship.” Disclosure is a self-ful act that also connects people. The vulnerability of disclosure sends the message that you care enough about yourself to let others know and ask for what you want, and it sends the message to others that it’s safe to share emotions. Disclosure in not empathy because it’s not about the other person.

Compassion can be motivated by more than empathy, so don’t limit it with the definition of “empathy in action”. Once motivated, compassion can be activated by Empathy, Validation, and Disclosure. Any of these can get the ball rolling for practicing real compassion.

Compassion is the practice of demonstrating that people are valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction.

We are on a mission to bring more compassion to every workplace in the world. It starts with recognizing that compassion is accessible to anyone and it can be learned and practiced in every interaction.

Learn more about The Compassion Mindset, our enterprise program for bringing more compassion to your workplace.

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Empathy Blockers

Empathy is in high demand right now. Leaders who cultivate their empathy skills have more cohesive teams and engaged employees. Whether you fancy yourself an empathy expert, or need to develop your empathy skills, here are some fantastic tips on what NOT to do from the International Listening Association.

What Empathy is NOT


“Did you do what I told you to do?”

“Did you take the medicine when you were supposed to?

Judging or Guilting

“Why did you do that?”

“That doesn’t seem worth worrying about.”

Well, that was a dumb thing to do.

“I can’t believe you did that!”

“I told you this is what would happen.”

Advising or Fixing

“You shouldn’t have said that.”

“You should have taken the medicine like you were supposed to.

“Maybe you should . . .”


“Oh, well, tomorrow is a new day.”

“That’s not so bad.”

Denying or Discounting 

“I can’t believe you’re upset about that.”

“That’s nothing!”

“Shouldn’t you just be glad that you have a job?”

One-upping or Kidnapping the Empathy

“If you think that’s bad . . .”

“You should hear what happened to me!”


“There’s a good book you should read about that.”

“I’ve got some resources that will help.”


“This seems to happen to you a lot.”

“That probably means you….”


“That’s too bad.  I’m sure tomorrow things will go better.”

“It could be worse. Imagine if…”

Compassion (I added this one)

It’s true, empathy is not the same as compassion. Here’s the scoop.

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Improve Your Life, In 30 Minutes, By Changing One Thing

I spent my entire formal education (and a ton of money) learning how to think and talk in complicated ways. I was convinced that it made me look smart and trustworthy and important.

When I graduated and began practicing clinical psychology I quickly learned that nobody really cares how smart you are if you can’t translate it into something they can use. I also learned that very few people care how much you know until the know how much you care. (more…)

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What Does The Dalai Lama Know About Compassionate Leadership?

Daniel Goleman has spent the last 30 years researching and developing the science of Emotional Intelligence, and is a friend of the Dalai Lama. Recently he was asked to write a book about the Dalai Lama’s compassionate approach to addressing the world’s most intractable problems. Just published in June 2020, Force for Good, is both an exploration of the science and the power of compassion and a call to action. (more…)

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Personality And Compassion

How compassionate are you? What are your compassion strengths and weaknesses? How does your personality impact your ability to practice compassion?

If you’ve ever completed a personality or strengths assessment, now’s the time to fetch your results and identify your signature strengths (and weaknesses).

Compassion requires three skills; openness, resourcefulness, and persistence. Openness creates a safe space where the real issues can be surfaced. Resourcefulness creates a curious space where creative problem-solving can happen. Persistence creates a consistent space where boundaries and principles are honored.

Each skill if necessary but not sufficient for full compassion. Our Compassion Cycle shows how these three skills work together, in order, to practice full compassion.

Here’s a list of typical personality-based strengths that correspond to each compassion skill.


  • Sensitive
  • Warm
  • Reflective
  • Calm
  • Spontaneous
  • Playful


  • Creative
  • Organized
  • Logical
  • Observant
  • Adaptable
  • Charming
  • Imaginative


  • Dedicated
  • Conscientious
  • Responsible
  • Persuasive

Comparing results from your own assessment, where is the most alignment? Where is the least alignment? What areas do you need to develop to practice fuller compassion?

The good news is that any personality type can start somewhere with their strengths. The bad news is that no personality type is singularly equipped for full compassion. So we all need to stretch ourselves and learn new skills if we want to grow in compassion.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2020

Start building out your compassion skills with The Compassion Mindset online course.

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What Are You Doing With The Energy of Conflict?

Conflict is a gap between what you want and what you are experiencing.

That gap contains a lot of energy. How you use that energy is your choice. Here are four options.

You could AVOID the gap, hoping it will go away. But the energy is still there. Without intention, that energy will infect your life through rumination, sleepless nights, mental drain, and even physical symptoms. This is wasteful energy management. (more…)

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Nine Self-Permissions To Stay Healthy During Crisis

“We are in this together” seems to be the anthem of Covid-19. But what does it really mean? Here are nine self-permissions to help you fully experience the gift of compassion during crisis and beyond.

  • Your feelings matter. They are an important sign of how you are doing.
  • Showing vulnerability doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you deserve to be supported.
  • How someone responds to you doesn’t define you. You are valuable and your experiences are valid.
  • Your contribution matters. It’s OK to share your ideas and get creative.
  • It’s OK to ask for help. We don’t need superheros, we need partners. 
  • It’s OK to fail forward. Learning curves are everywhere. Now is the time to fail often and fail forward.
  • Your boundaries matter. The tighter we live and work, the more important this is.
  • It’s OK to say NO. That’s how you respect your own boundaries.
  • You deserve forgiveness. You will mess up under stress. Give yourself grace.

Once you get comfortable giving yourself these permissions, try giving them to others too.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2020

Want to learn more about compassionate leadership during disruption and change? Attend our free drama-resilience webinar.


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Self-Compassion vs. Compassionate Self-Care

Self-Compassion is so important. Practices such as mindfulness, self-acceptance, and presence help us stay balanced. But we need more than that to stay healthy when we are facing rapid change in our working and living conditions.

Compassionate self-care is quite different. Our definition of compassion is, “the practice of demonstrating that people are valuable, capable, and responsible.” Self-Compassion focuses mostly on the “valuable” part. Compassionate self-care is more comprehensive.

Demonstrating that you are valuable means

  • Accepting your feelings as valid, and treating them as important signs of how you are doing.
  • Identifying and naming your emotional experience.
  • Sharing how you feel with others, without any expectations.

It might sound like this…

“I’m anxious about being able to lead my team remotely right now.”

“I’m glad we are going through this together.”

“I’ve noticed I’m not sleeping as well because I keep replaying things in my head.”

Demonstrating that you are capable means

  • Trying new things and learning from mistakes.
  • Asking for the kind of information or resources that would help you most.
  • Using your past experiences, successes, skills as valuable assets right now.
  • Forgiving yourself or not being perfect or having it all figured out.

It might sound like this…

“There’s this recipe I’ve always wanted to try. What do I have to lose!”

“Will you recommend a secure video sharing service?”

“I raised two children by myself. What did I learn that I could apply now?”

Demonstrating that you are responsible means

  • Setting and reinforcing heathy boundaries around your sleep, exercise, routines, eating.
  • Serving others in a way that doesn’t drain you.
  • Apologizing and owning up when you slip up.

It might sound like this…

“I feel better when I get up at my usual time, get dressed, and act like I’m going to work.”

“I will volunteer to get groceries for two of my neighbors. That’s all.”

“I am sorry for snapping at you. I let the stress get to me instead of telling you how I felt earlier. I will be more open with you going forward.”

Would you like to learn more about compassionate self-care and get guidance from a Next Element facilitator?

Join our Free 45 minute Drama-Resilience Webinar: Compassionate Self-Care During Covid-19. Based on our Leading Out of Drama model, we will help you use compassion to keep all those energy vampires at bay!

Click here to register.

Copyright Next Element Consulting,  LLC 2020
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Human Doing vs. Human Being

In the new Covid-19 world everyone is going virtual. In my part of that world it’s about virtual training. I get multiple emails every day either promoting a new virtual training, giving me a free course to get up to speed, or offering to help promote my own virtual stuff. It’s hard not to make comparisons between what we are doing and what they are doing. Inevitably, I feel inadequate. Is everyone else ahead of us? Will we get on the virtual train before it leaves the station? What are we missing? I easily get overwhelmed when I let myself go there.

Back when I was a therapist, patients would often share with me their desire to fit in and their struggle with low self-esteem because what they were doing wasn’t enough compared to others. I would often encourage them with this,

You aren’t a human doing. You are a human being.

My intention was to affirm that we are unconditionally valuable because we exist, not because of our actions.

These days I could use a dose of my own therapy!

Yet in a heavily achievement-oriented society that measures worth by what we DO instead of who we are, it’s easy to feel inadequate.

Then along comes Covid-19.

Doing, as we know it, is over for now

  • No more showing off your latest brand of shoes at school.
  • No more competing for that spot on the track team.
  • No more heading to the office for a successful day’s work.
  • No more running all those errands to feel productive.
  • No more closing that big sale in record time.
  • No more go, go, go.

Younger people may have the hardest time with this since they lack perspective and they’ve grown up experiencing and expecting quick fixes to most problems. I wonder if younger countries, like America, might also struggle more with this. We (Americans) are accustomed to winning the war, defeating the enemy, innovating a solution in record time, blasting through the rubble unscathed like every Marvel movie. Although we’ve suffered plenty in our short lifetime, our perspective is relatively limited compared to many.

Being is the next frontier

Human Doings spend so much time taking action that they haven’t cultivated their skills of Being.

  • Reflection
  • Silence
  • Stillness
  • Presence
  • Mindfulness
  • Connection
  • Acceptance
  • Wisdom

I am in no way suggesting that we should back off on our efforts to contain and cure the CoronaVirus. I am suggesting that this challenge may also be a golden opportunity to rediscover what it means to be a human being.

My wife, Julie said it best;

“We need to adapt, learn and re-imagine our approach to help our clients at a time when training is not what they need, but compassion is.”

How has this crisis challenged your DOING way of life? What are you discovering about BEING a human? Will you share your comments?

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2020

Are you drained by the stress and strain of the COVID-19 pandemic? Attend our FREE Compassionate Self-care webinar and get tips to keep those energy vampires at bay!

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