Why “I was only trying to help” is not compassionate.

The opposite of compassion is selfishness. The problem is that the selfish action creates pain instead of helping to alleviate it. In the end, it divides teams and frustrates innovative opportunities.

How can we change that?

Those that follow me know I work to help individuals and organizations think bigger and reach higher to do what others never thought possible. This includes creating a cutting-edge culture that engages and empowers teams to become disruptive leaders and delivers the desired innovation. When we take the effort to care and connect, we can collaborate and create the ultimate performance, production and profits. 

A Recent Story

A few weeks ago I was catching up with a publisher with whom I had worked on a project. It was a polite conversation and I shared the draft of my newest book. He looked through it without saying anything for 2 or 3 minutes until suddenly he sits up as if he had just found what he was looking for and blurts out . . .

“You have a typo here.”

I looked at him in dismay. Sensing his faux pas, he quickly responded, “I was only trying to help.”

While this sounds like a compassionate phrase designed to alleviate future pain, it isn’t. Why?


They really are not helping. Instead, they are elevating themselves to a level of expert. They are doing the opposite of being compassionate. They are creating pain by showing the other person’s mistake.

The problem with that phrase is that if people are really trying to help, they wouldn’t bring it up until they had genuinely examined the value of what the other was sharing. In my case, he never once brought up the content or any other aspect of the book before proclaiming, “You have a mistake.” That was his goal, find a problem or a mistake.

He is not alone. Listen and you will find that whenever someone has a new idea or sharing a new product, there will always be those who try to tear it apart.

Elevating your ego over theirs is not compassion – it is creating pain.


Imagine how using that egotistical tactic disengages your team.

When someone shares something, they are not asking for a critique. Instead, they are celebrating an accomplishment. So to point out something that you think is wrong is like wiping your dirty shoes on a white carpet.

The compassionate action is to celebrate with them. If they want your help, they will ask for it. If they don’t ask, then you can volunteer to help (such as in the editing.) If you really want to help them, that will be evident. However, if you only want to inflate your ego at their expense, that too will be evident.

As a leader, it may be your job to deliver the project free of errors. We all understand that. However, how you do that will determine the engagement level of your team. If you criticize first, you probably don’t have as engaged a team than if you celebrate first. Create an atmosphere of collaboration to build a cutting-edge culture. There will be room for adjustment or correction but not in the first step.

I imagine some will say they don’t have time for all of that compassion. On the surface, that makes sense but what they don’t understand is that compassion is the best business model because it delivers the ultimate performance, production and profits. Compassion grows a cutting-edge team. You can’t just buy one off the shelf.

My advise is to celebrate first and shut up about any flaws until later. If you have earned the right to critique, you will have the opportunity later. Don’t use your right to cause them pain and disengage them.

As we discussed earlier, pain, and especially the intense pain of trauma, quickly erodes a team member’s performance, which threatens the team’s production and company profits.

My wife and co-author, Lisa Murfield is presenting twice at the SHRM19 conference in Las Vegas. On Monday, June 24 at 10:45-11:45 she is presenting “Employee Trauma: What Happened in Vegas didn’t Stay in Vegas.” On Tuesday, June 25 at 11:10-11:28 she is presenting on the SMART Stage for a talk on “Calculating the ROI of Compassion.” Book signings will Monday 12:00-12:15 and Tuesday 11:30-11:45

(c) 2019 Murfield International, Inc.




Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

I work with leaders and organizations think bigger and reach higher to find breakthrough success. This is a process that I can help you learn. Begin the process today by contacting me. 

Start learning how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Watch for the release of our new book, “Leading with the Power of Compassion” in June, 2019.

ROI of Compassion 2018

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