Are you your own worst critic? Maybe it’s time to adopt a self-compassionate approach

I read an interesting article in the latest edition of The Coaching Psychologist. It was about helping coaching clients develop a more self-compassionate approach as a way to learn, develop and grow. As you can see from the sketchnote I drew to accompany this post, compassionate self-talk focuses on strengths, encouragement and hope.

Dr Kristin Neff, in her book Self compassion: stop beating yourself and leave insecurity behind, suggests there are three elements of self-compassion. These are:

  1. Self-kindness – taking the time to understand rather than judge yourself
  2. Feeling connected with others in life – recognising there is a world outside ourselves
  3. Mindfulness – seeing the situation in real-time without focusing on ‘what ifs’.

And this got me thinking about lots of my coaching clients, past and present. Some of them were their own harshest critics and at times, this ended up getting in the way of progress – their own and their teams. This reminds me of an article by Karol Wasylyshyn and Frank Masterpasqua who said,

“Being consistently more self-critical versus self-compassionate is likely to extend to our view of others’ shortcomings, and the recent research corroborates this perspective”

Adopting a self-compassionate approach, therefore, may not only help us but could be beneficial for those around us. By being more compassionate to ourselves, focusing on our strengths and using this as the basis for growth, could we be better leaders and managers?

Now, before we go any further, I want to head off any naysayers who think a compassionate, strengths-based approach means leaders and managers become pushovers. That it means they avoid giving difficult feedback. That they avoid tackling performance issues.

What outcomes might be achieved through a compassionate approach?

A self-compassionate approach might helps us reduce our levels of stress and might make us feel better.

A 2017 study found that compassion is one of the eight characteristics of servant leadership. The researchers identified the following outcomes from adopting a servant leadership style:

  • Individual outcomes: Servant leaders were seen as more likely to display and build trust, commitment, innovative behaviour, job satisfaction and work-life balance; and in addition, have better relationships with employees through engagement.
  • Team outcomes: The review found a positive relationship between servant leadership and group organisational citizenship behaviour; levels of group identification; creating a service-oriented climate and culture; and developing a climate of fairness and equality.
  • Organisational outcomes: Servant leaders were more likely to have better levels of customer service satisfaction and sales performance in their organisations.

The strengths-based approach

The CIPD, in a People Management magazine article from June 2018, state,

“CIPD research has frequently advocated ‘strengths based’ conversations, where managers and employees reflect on what’s working well and how to build on that, rather than dwelling on things that went wrong”

This relates to evidence-based research, conducted by the CIPD, exploring what works and what doesn’t when it comes to performance management. Here’s a link to the report.

Impact on self-belief: In a field experiment involving more than 80 educational professionals, Marianne van Woerkom and Maria Christina Meyers found that a strengths-based approach had a direct effect on participants’ self-belief and an indirect effect on personal growth. The strength-based approach was particularly effective for people with low to medium levels of self-belief at work. The researchers suggest that strengths-based interventions may be an effective approach for organisations looking to facilitate self-directed learning among employees, especially for those who lack confidence in their own abilities.

Impact on feedback: If you manage someone you think may have low self-confidence then it’s important you think carefully about the type of feedback you give and how you give it. Researchers found people who believe their reputations are not justified by their achievements (i.e. self-critical) may suffer from impostor syndrome. In this instance, negative, critical feedback can lead to a real drop in performance and subsequently self-esteem. It’s worth noting that this was particularly the case for men in the participant group.

Impact on well-being: A study examined whether people would experience higher well-being on the days they use their strengths. 87 people completed a survey and then completed a diary questionnaire for 30 consecutive days. The researchers found that employees who use their strengths at work build their own positive emotions and levels of work engagement. Personality influences how successful people are in using strengths – the study found it works best for those high in Extraversion and low in Neuroticism. The researchers suggest that organisations and managers should facilitate employee strengths use because when people use their strengths, “they are more dedicated and energised during work”.

Three ways to develop your self-compassion

  1. Imagine you are talking to your closest friend. If they were going through a tough time at work, similar to one you might be going through, what advice would you give to them?
  2. Keep a self-compassion journal to re-frame your thoughts. Write about any difficult events of the day and then note down at least two things you did as best you could, given the circumstances.
  3. Get an accountability partner. This could be a coach or a trusted colleague. Tell them you want to develop your self-compassion and become less self-critical. Not only does this put your aim ‘out there’, it means you have others to help you if you veer into self-critical talk.

How self-compassionate are you? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it. Thank you!

Also, if you’d like a printable copy of the sketchnote accompanying this post then email me and I’ll send it to you.

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