How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict
Peter J. Frost
256 pages (Harvard Business School Press, 2002)

Peter J. Frost, a professor at the University of British Columbia, hails oft-overlooked heroes in the workplace: those to whom peers turn for a compassionate ear and caring advice during times of personal or corporate travail. By buffering the pain around them, such “toxin handlers” can bolster morale and performance. However, Frost warns that such workers risk burning out or becoming toxic themselves, especially if their numbers are few. To address this, Frost urges leaders to recognize such magnets for compassion and institutionalize their good instincts. He makes a strong case for confronting pain proactively, arguing that organizations need to develop a language for talking about feelings and an overall orientation toward empathy. That sounds good, but where Frost falters is in addressing the corporate hierarchies and behavioral intricacies that make human kindness more rare than it perhaps should be.