Dr. King’s Compassionate Talking 


Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., Co-Founder, Kuczmarski Innovation 

Effective compassion is rooted in words. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., engaged in compassionate talking. He was direct, open and deep. All leaders can learn from Dr. King’s use of words and how he communicated to others. Leaders who nurture compassion among employees often experience significant long-term benefits to commitment and productivity too.

Compassion is a core leadership skill. It means to be in the heart of another person. The closer we are to others, the more we can feel or relate to their situation—be in their hearts—and experience their emotions, whether happiness, confusion, sorrow, pain, or misery. Genuine compassion results in feeling concerned and responsible for another. It is not enough just to feel it; one must do something with it. His words nurtured compassionate action. It was that action that changed the world!

Leaders must take a close look at their language and be aware of the impact of words. Compassionate talk fosters interpersonal relationships. There is an unselfish sense of connection and commitment. Its value is huge! When a person hears other people talking; his or her understanding is enlarged.

Think back to the definition of compassion–to be in the heart of another person—and consider the value of talk in this sense. Don’t restrict the boundaries of conversation. Let workers know it’s good to grow individually in different areas and directions. Always encourage active listening and you’ll learn from each other.  Describe problems, give information, encourage dialogue, and don’t forget to model how to do it. Fully express your own feelings, needs, and expectations. Talk about everything and nothing—from racial discrimination and its causes to your favorite foods and how you prepare them. Share your past experiences, good and bad, and what you learned. It will inspire your employees to share theirs, now and as they spend more time together. Walk down unknown conversational paths. Feel safe doing the unsafe. Let this kind of deep talk nourish you. It will create rich and rare relationships.

Learning to talk deeply creates a rare and wonderful energy between others. Imagine what work would be like if there were no talking. In authoritarian work environments, employees are afraid to say anything, so there is silence. Workers quickly learn that they must be seen and not heard. Meaningful communication is rare. Yelling, the worst form of verbalization, is too common.

Close and healthy work environments are built through frequent, open, two-way communication—and lots of it. Try to talk on a regular basis, especially at meetings when everyone is sitting together. Establish a ritual where workers go around the table and talk about the most meaningful—or discouraging—part of their work. This may be an event, a personal project, or a thought—anything that has special importance. Try to break free from old and repeated topics. It’s good to change your conversational patterns. Open up new thoughts, dream out loud, share private tears, and explore perspectives on everything—from failures to fears. Compassionate talking can be effortless, if you let it be.

Susan Smith KuczmarskiAbout the Author: Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., is the co-founder of Kuczmarski Innovation which provides thought leadership on innovation, culture, management and values. She is the author of 6 awarding-winning books, including 3 on leadership. Her just-released Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition (co-authored with Tom Kuczmarski) shares techniques to cultivate and motivate people. Apples Are Square: Thinking Differently About Leadership describes six innovative leadership qualities. Her research, speaking, teaching and training workshops have made her a leading expert on leadership.


  1. Henry L Doyle on at 7:47 PM

    Thank you for this well written essay which has relevance and purpose for effective leadership.

  2. John Kuczmarski on at 12:20 PM

    Brilliant article! “Open up new thoughts, dream out loud, share private tears, and explore perspectives on everything—from failures to fears.” Even rhymes. It’s practically poetic! Thanks for sharing!

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