What if your organizational culture was nonviolent, compassionate, and caring? You would like your work, share ideas and resources with co-workers, and probably do your best. You’d thrive. And so would the company, its results, and its contribution to the world. Here’s some inspiration from nonviolence and compassion research. How can you make your organization more compassionate? A nonviolent culture helps to build a better world.
In this series, I explore organizational culture and what we need to face our current ecological, social, and governance challenges and become future-fit. Organizations can play a crucial role in humanity’s transition to a healthy future when they make their products, services, and actions sustainable and just. Organizations can be spaces where people learn crucial new ways of thinking and doing, and where they find support and meaning. People take this new culture home to their communities and spread it. Organizations can help people learn and adapt as the world faces several transitions.
A future-fit culture provides the glue, the speed and trust, the shared identity, the narrative, the purpose, the core values and priorities, the key behaviors, and the openness to learn new skills needed in the VUCA-world, that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
Nonviolence is caring
Nonviolence is often overlooked. It may sound weak, passive, or soft. But there’s great power in nonviolence. Its source is love and all humans have access to love. It’s an underestimated but transformative power. If you have time, watch the movie The Third Harmony about nonviolence.
Why do we underestimate nonviolence? Because it doesn’t align with our dominant culture’s narrative. The dominant story emphasizes selfishness and competition. It is the “story of separation” that sees humans as separate from their ecosystems – meant to dominate the world, other species, and ecosystems. Humans can take whatever resources they want, they are the masters!
This story is part of our culture, also our organizational culture. As Jane Dutton and Monica Worline write in their book Awakening Compassion at Work: The vast majority of businesses continue to be run by men, based on a very limited set of hypermasculine values, such as domination, aggression, ambition, competition, winning at all costs, short-term thinking, and a zero-sum view of the world.
Do you face brutal deadlines, competitive pressure, insensitive management, relentless schedules, and demands? Then your organization is enacting the dominant story of power, dominance, and pushing boundaries. Our dominant story includes violence.
Kazu Haga, founder of the East Point Peace Academy, states: Violence is traumatic, as research shows. On the other hand, no one has ever suffered from trauma by love or compassion. Hence, violence is not what humans need. We need community and love. Nonviolence is a good start.
And primatologist Frans de Waal points out: humans are also compassionate, they feel empathy and they want to collaborate. Rutger Bregman also makes this case in his book Human Kind.
Evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris confirms that people want to cooperate and help, especially after disasters. We are wired to care. We care for the world, other species, and ecosystems. “Our mandate is to move to peace. We are killing this planet. If we can be more peaceful, maybe we can fix it,” she says.
The selfish, separate individual is not the whole truth. There’s also a compassionate, connected, collaborative group member in all of us. We want to belong to a group, we need support. Thanks to our mirror neurons we can feel what others feel.
Nonviolence has two sides, according to Sarah Thompson, a former executive of Christian peace teams:
- I will not cooperate with (your) injustice
- But I’m open to you as a human being
From this nonviolent perspective, you don’t “cancel” people that you disagree with. You try to see their point of view, with respect. Nonviolence is a great basis for dialogue.
Peace activist Michael Nagler explains that respect plus a refusal to comply are a different mental state than aggression. “If you suppress your aggression and activate respect and refusal, you induce nonviolence in the other. Because the aggressor has mirror neurons, too. Nonviolence is de-escalating.”
Compassion elevates people and performance
Dutton and Worline state that compassion is rooted in a fundamental human drive: the need to care. Human beings have at least three primary drives: self-interest, the need to care, and, increasingly, the need to live a life of meaning and purpose.
Research shows that compassion at work builds loyalty and teamwork. Because of its role in enhancing collective capabilities like innovation, service quality, collaboration, and adaptability, compassion matters for competitive advantage. Compassion contributes to an organization’s financial resilience, profitability, and customer retention after downsizing. Compassionate business units exhibit better financial performance and higher employee and customer retention.
Compassion is an irreplaceable dimension of excellence for any organization that wants to make the most of its human capabilities. So, how can you enable compassion at work? Dutton and Worline share many small but impactful things to do – that contribute to creating a positive culture. Read their book to see what you can apply.
How to activate nonviolence and compassion?
Activating nonviolence and compassion can be easier said than done. Especially if you are angry, afraid, stressed out, and overwhelmed. It takes personal development to deal with your anger and fear so that you can be nonviolent and open to others. Or meditating, or being in nature.
Peace activist Michael Nagler advises starting with three assumptions when you address an opponent or aggressor:
- People have a core of kindness and caring
- We are interconnected
- We can find solutions that work for both
Elisabet Sahtouris thinks we can all work toward peace and nonviolence. Her advice is to:
- avoid violent media
- learn nonviolence
- take up a spiritual practice (meditate)
- develop healthy relations with others
- find out what you can do for the world
I agree with this. Nonviolence aligns with the four elements of a positive organizational culture, especially as it helps to build trust and collaboration (the 2nd element). But it also helps the elements of positive awareness, learning, and a positive purpose.
A nonviolent attitude and ditto communication skills enable dialogue. Dialogue enables understanding, bonding, brainstorming, and learning. That helps us find solutions for our current world with many crises.
Do you want to enhance your skills? Check out the online Course nonviolent communication
Why care for nonviolence?
Nonviolence is very effective. Dutton and Worline show the research in their book Compassion at work. Erica Chenoweth shares more research in her book Civil Resistance. Nonviolent approaches are twice as effective as violent actions when people want to change something. It’s also a myth that nonviolent actions take longer. A violent movement may take 10 years to reach a solution, while nonviolent actions have seen solutions in 3 years.
Nonviolence may be so effective because you don’t need to repair so much after nonviolent actions. No one gets hurt, there’s no trauma, there’s not so much forgiveness needed, maybe just some apologies.
It is also effective because nonviolence and compassion enable openness, social safety, and dialogue.
You won’t be attacked, kicked out, or humiliated in a nonviolent, compassionate (aka positive) culture. Amy Edmondson’s book The Fearless Organization shares the research, the business case, and the practices for developing social safety.
As Edmondson explains: Growth in the Industrial Revolution was driven by standardization, but today it’s driven by ideas and ingenuity. People must bring their brains to work and collaborate to solve problems and accomplish work that’s perpetually changing. We spend 50% more time collaborating than 20 years ago – so, we must speak up at work, we have to practice respectful, nonviolent, compassionate dialogue.
Especially in the current era with so many ecological, social, and governance crises. We need nonviolence more than ever before.
Let’s be smart. Let’s listen and learn. Let’s act with love.
© Marcella Bremer, 2023
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