'Compassion has a bit of a reputation problem'

Ella Rhodes spoke to Kirstie Drummond Papworth ahead of her British Psychological Society webinar on compassion for individuals, leaders and organisations.

What will your webinar cover? 
This webinar will explore recent research in compassion and self-compassion. We’ll discuss why compassion is different from empathy, sympathy or altruism, and why this matters from a psychobiological and practical perspective. 

How did you first become interested in this area? 
After years of Buddhist compassion meditations, I decided to try to understand the nature and impact of compassion more fully. I did a Masters in coaching and behavioural change, where my dissertation research focused on organisational compassion and Affective Commitment. I then did another masters in psychology, where my dissertation looked at the impacts of self-compassion in leaders. I love that even though as a research subject it still offers more questions than answers, compassion is also simultaneously staggeringly impactful in its simplicity. 

What still needs to change in this area? 
Compassion has a bit of a reputation problem – which is largely undeserved. It’s seen as soft and fluffy, and the phrase ‘compassion fatigue’ doesn’t exactly endear it to us. Changing these common misconceptions, and instead focusing on the numerous individual and organisation benefits of compassion, would be a great place to start. 

The good news is that compassion is increasingly becoming an area of interest. When I first proposed my research in this area, I was told it wasn’t academic enough. Now I’m writing a book on compassionate leadership for a series focused on transformative thinking and practice in leadership and its development. Hopefully change is already happening. 

Could you tell us something that might surprise someone not familiar with this area of work? 
People often use the terms compassion and empathy interchangeably, but our brains know the difference. Training in each of these areas results in activation of neural networks in different areas of our brains. What’s more, the areas associated with empathy increase negative emotions, those associated with compassion increase our positive emotions. 

What do you hope people will take away from the webinar? 
The understanding to use a clear, research-based approach to compassion, and to be able to apply the learning from the webinar in a practical way immediately afterwards. And maybe also some of my enthusiasm for exploring compassion! 

Kirstie’s webinar is on Thursday 18 November from 10am until 12pm. Find more information and book now

You can also find lots in our archive on compassion.

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