Aimee O'Leary
Written by
Aimee O'Leary

It’s 5pm. A member of your team sends through a piece of work that you discussed in detail a few hours before and it’s not at all what you agreed. You feel the rush of frustration as you realise you are going to have to spend your evening fixing a problem that should never have existed. We’ve all been there. In that moment, what determines a good leader is the ability to stay empathetic and kind – not to launch into an attack.

Letting emotions take over in these scenarios not only has pretty huge consequences on company culture and engagement, it can also be detrimental to the wellbeing of employees. Research by The Maudsley Royal Hospital, found that with patients who had suffered episodes of depression or schizophrenia, remarks given in a critical or contemptuous tone was as powerful a predictor of relapse as their not having taking medication. Pretty scary right?

In this article Carol Kauffman explains how to protect your company and your employees by staying compassionate in times of frustration.

From the Article: 

It can come out of nowhere — a contempt attack. Like a panic attack, it arises suddenly and takes over completely. You feel a roil of emotions and an overpowering sense of exasperation: the person you’re working with is wasting your time, undermining your efforts, holding back the team. They’re weak, lazy, willfully misguided. In the grips of the attack, you can no longer focus on the matter at hand. The problem is more fundamental. What troubles you about this person is not so much what they’re doing as who they are.

Most leaders experience contempt attacks at one time or another, especially during times of crisis, uncertainty, and high stress. Leaders need to be strong and resilient to make it through these periods. Paradoxically, however, those very strengths make leaders vulnerable to these attacks, because in the heat of the moment they forget that not everybody is as strong and resilient as they are.


As a leader, you need to recognize how powerfully your contempt can affect the people you’re working with. You overlook this at your peril. Fortunately, it’s possible to train yourself to be alert to signs of an impending contempt attack — and in so doing, to help yourself hit the reset button.

Awareness is key. One early sign of an impending attack is that you feel like rolling your eyes. Another is disparaging somebody in your mind. (“What a loser,” “Get a grip.”) Do you feel a sneer coming on? Are you looking down your nose at that person, or blaming them for their weakness? If these things are happening, you’re no longer creating a zone of psychological safety for the two of you, and you lose effectiveness as a leader. Don’t let this kind of amygdala hijack control your actions. Once you recognize that an attack is imminent, deactivation has to become your only goal. Only after you’ve addressed your own behavior can you start thinking again about somebody else’s.


Remind yourself of who this person really is, not who they are at this moment. If you find yourself looking down on them, see if you can come up with three things that you respect about them. What have they accomplished that matters to you or the organization? When have they gone out of their way for you or someone on your team? If you can’t come up with anything, you’re probably too stressed to think straight — or you need to turn your attention back on yourself. If this person really isn’t up to the challenge of being on your team, why are they still on it? It’s not their fault that you chose to keep them there.

Get the full article online: Without Compassion, Resilient Leaders Will Fall Short.

Make sure to explore Inspiring Workplace’s other content and insights about leadership.

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