The Truth About Compassion

soft skills

In the June09 issue of Harvard Business Review, Mr Robert I. Sutton writes about How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy. His remedies for the Boss were predictability, understanding, control and compassion. He gives examples to further his argument about his remedies. While his explanation followed his remedy – it was predictable – his example on compassion had me bristled.

First, a little digressiondigression
➤ (n) a message that departs from the main subject
➤ (n) a turning aside (of your course or attention or concern)
➤ (n) wandering from the main path of a journey
on compassion. These days we are bandying around compassion as a skill. As if it were something that one learns at the blacksmith’s or at the carpenter’s. It is our very innateinnate
➤ (a) not established by conditioning or learning
➤ (s) being talented through inherited qualities
➤ (s) present at birth but not necessarily hereditary; acquired during fetal development
nature, for God’s sake. It has nothing to do with managers or employees or with royalty; it is mine because of being a human being. It is our seventh sense. Don’t ever call it a soft skill. Compassion is not a good thing to have. It is the right thing to have.

Now, for that example on compassion. Let me quote Mr Sutton:


Jerald Greenberg, a management professor at The Ohio State University, provides compellingcompelling
➤ (s) driving or forcing
➤ (s) tending to persuade by forcefulness of argument
evidence that compassion affects the bottom line in tough times. Greenberg studiedstudied
➤ (a) produced or marked by conscious design or premeditation
three nearly identical manufacturing plants in the Midwest that were all part of the same company; two of them (which management chose at random) instituted a temporary 10-week pay cut of 15% after the firm had lost a major contract. At one of the two, the executive who conveyed the news did so curtly, announcing, “I’ll answer one or two questions, but then I have to catch a plane for another meeting.” At the other one, the executive who broke the news gave a detailed and compassionate explanation, along with apologies and multiple expressions of remorse. He also spent a full hour answering questions about why the cost cutting was necessary, who would be affected, and what steps workers could take to help themselves and the plant. Greenberg found fascinating effects on employee theft rates. At the plant where the curt explanation was given, the rate rose to more than 9%. But at the plant where management’s explanation was detailed and compassionate, it rose only to 6%. (At the third plant, where no pay cuts were made, the rate held steady at about 4% during the 10-week period.)


It is unfortunate that he gives thieving of employees as an example to buttressbuttress
➤ (n) a support usually of stone or brick; supports the wall of a building
➤ (v) reinforce with a buttress
➤ (v) make stronger or defensible
his idea about compassion for employees. It would appear that researchers such as Mr Greenberg – as quoted by Mr Sutton - think that employees by nature are proneprone
➤ (s) having a tendency (to); often used in combination
➤ (s) lying face downward
to thieving. Why else would one do such a gratuitousgratuitous
➤ (s) without cause
➤ (s) costing nothing
➤ (s) unnecessary and unwarranted
I would imagine that Mr Greenberg’s research hypothesis read:
This research establishes a correlationcorrelation
➤ (n) a reciprocal relation between two or more things
➤ (n) a statistic representing how closely two variables co-vary; it can vary from -1 (perfect negative correlation) through 0 (no correlation) to +1 (perfect positive correlation)
➤ (n) a statistical relation between two or more variables such that systematic changes in the value of one variable are accompanied by systematic changes in the other
between increase of theft by employees and the abruptness of language used by CEOs conveying salary reduction news.
And from this research Mr Sutton got compellingcompelling
➤ (s) driving or forcing
➤ (s) tending to persuade by forcefulness of argument
evidence that compassion begets less thieving!
I think this is absolutely unfair to employees.

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