Speak Softly & Kindly (to Your Self)

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Self-compassion is defined as a compassionate, kind, and caring attitude towards self, especially when facing difficulties, painful situations, or personal setbacks or failures (Neff, 2003). Over the past decade, clinical and social research has determined that self-compassion is a positive psychological strength and a critical source of happiness (Reizer, 2019). In the workplace, self-compassion has been shown to enhance performance because it offers us a pathway for overcoming mental barriers, destructive thoughts, fear of failure, and negative emotions (Neff & Knox, 2017). Furthermore, self-compassion has been shown to facilitate sports and academic performance (Leary et al., 2007).

So, how does self-compassion improve workplace performance? Basically, self-compassion provides us with the ability to wrap our pain and difficulties in a warm and accepting embrace, which generates positive emotions that help offset negativity (Neff & Know, 2017). For example, we may still experience negative emotions associated with difficulties and failures, but we have the ability to incorporate feelings of acceptance, love, and happiness to offset these negative aspects. This process allows us to bounce back quickly from setbacks by helping us adopt a forgiving and optimistic attitude toward the future.

The ability to offset negative emotions is especially important in today’s workplace, where there is an endless list of challenges, barriers, failures, and 24/7 demands. Having the ability to comfort ourselves with self-love and compassion may help us face these challenges more effectively, without experiencing the negative side effects of stress, frustration, and anxiety (Achnak et al., 2018). Up until recently, management consultants and experts in organizational behavior have advocated that strong and effective employees are stoic and silent regarding their own suffering and have offered programs designed to help employees suppress their feelings and negative thoughts (Reizer, 2019). Today, research shows that effective employees have the ability to utilize internal resources to generate hope and inner strength when confronted with workplace challenges (Neff & Know, 2017). In other words, self-love and compassion is a strength, not a weakness, in the workplace.

So, can you develop self-compassion? If so, how?

We now know that self-compassion is a trainable skill that can be improved with practice. One of the most researched means to build self-compassion is through a mindfulness practice. At Levelhead, we have long recognized the value of developing self-compassion and offer a wide variety of exercises designed to facilitate the development of this skill. It’s exciting for us to see the mounting evidence that self-compassion can also improve organizational performance by reducing turnover, emotional exhaustion, burnout, and enhancing creativity.

Below, I have included one of our many exercises designed to help you develop self-compassion and encourage you to take a moment to experience just how easy it is to give yourself a “warm hug”… so that when you really need one, you’ll know just what to do.


Achnak, S., Griep, Y., and Vantilborgh, T. (2018). I am so tired. . . How fatigue may exacerbate stress reactions to psychological contract breach. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 231. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00231

Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Batts Allen, A., and Hancock, J. (2007). Self- compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 92, 887–904.

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self- Identity 2, 223–250. doi: 10.1080/15298860309027

Neff, K. D., and Knox, M. C. (2017). “Self-compassion,” in Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, eds V. Zeigler-Hill and T. K. Shackelford (Cham: Springer International Publishing), 1–8. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1159-

Reizer, A. (2019). Bringing self-kindness into the workplace: Exploring the mediating role of self-compassion in the associations between attachment and organizational outcomes. Frontiers in Psychology10.