A conversation

I’m back. I’ve reflected on our relationship.  And have something to tell you.

I love you.

Just your typical conversation with your direct report who is underperforming, yes?

Perhaps not.

But it could be.

If you are like many leaders we work with, you don’t like having what you call those ‘difficult conversations’.  Those conversations to talk about things which are not quite right between you and the other.  Often it is around underperformance. Where there is a gap between what your direct report is doing and what you want them to do.

We help leaders work through this. By encouraging them to articulate the problem with facts. And to communicate the impact of the underperformance. We help them access strategies to respond appropriately to their and the other’s reactions. And to explore ways to gain ownership.

Underperformance and Compassion

For those leaders who wish to go deeper, these underperformance conversations can be an opportunity to bring compassion into their leadership. And into the workplace.

The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.”  No longer just the domain of religion and spirituality, the likes of leadership writers Boyatzis and McKee, recognise that compassion is a key component of good leadership and good coaching.

In Buddhism, the idea of sharing in suffering is essentially “feeling for and not feeling with the other.” We don’t have to be drained by the emotions of others, but we have a heart and head understanding of how they’re feeling. And as the new field of social neuroscience has confirmed. We are wired to help.

Underperformance, probably one of the greatest sources of suffering in the workplace, is surely a ripe place for the leader to start.

If we attend to the other, we automatically empathise with them. So drawing from compassion theory, mindfulness and loving kindness meditation, there is a way to prepare yourself for those conversations.

It involves saying those 3 words.  I love you.

But relax. Saying them just in your mind will be enough.

It may seem far-fetched.  But there will be a shift in how you feel. In how you view that individual. And how you approach the conversation.

Here is a short exercise for you to experiment with.

A visualisation 

Take a moment to relax in your chair, gently close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath and the sensations in your body. 

And bring to mind that person who you want to have a conversation with.  A conversation which is important to you to help you both move forward. To bridge this performance gap. And to address this tension between you both.

You see that person. 

And you shine light on what you are doing to create separation between you both.

You offer yourself kindness. And you offer yourself compassion in how you may have been creating separation.

And you turn to look into the eyes of that person. 

You see them. Their vulnerability and good intent. You sense their goodness. And you know that we all want to do a good job.  Of course, you see that in them.

And feeling them close by, you reach out. 

I love you, you say. I appreciate you. May you be free from suffering. 

Coming back to yourself you notice your own heart.

And you gently open your eyes.


May this help you in your next conversation.


  • Brach, T (2015) Sure Hearts Release, Audio Tape 4 March 2015, www.tarabrach.com 
  • Boyatzis R and McKee A (2005) Resonated Leadership: Renewing yourself and connecting with others through mindfulness, hope and compassion, Harvard business School Publishing, Boston
  • Goleman, Daniel (2007) Why aren’t we more compassionate? TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-clarity/201703/compassion-is-better-empathy
  • Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
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