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It Takes Empathy

If you look at the picture above, you might see a sunset. Some of you will see a sunrise. Much like the famous philosophical discourse between skeptics and optimists, a glass can only be either half empty or half full. I believe nonetheless that the above picture is that of a sunrise. I’m an optimist. I also believe that a glass is reflective of its current state. Either you just poured into or poured out of it. Otherwise, it’s a glass with water sitting at the half-way mark.

This theoretical circle of dissension is constant and without the ability to achieve closure or satisfaction. It all comes down to perspective. That’s why in a time where we’re actively pushed out of our comfort zones, perspective is a powerful enabler.

For those struggling with where to steer the ship of transformation, this is for you.

What it is you see. What it is you feel. Where it is you want to go and why. These are the things that matter. The gift of perspective is matched only by the gift of perseverance. As you seek to change or improve “what is” and set out to bring “what could be” to life, you will be met by the champions of mediocrity who do not wish to align with your vision. Remember, it is passion and persistence that outlasts resistance. But, it takes courage… It takes courage to endeavor in a new direction where you’re greatest allies, passion, hope, vision and optimism, are consequential yet intangible. Their value however, is well, in the eye, heart, and mind of the beholder.

Change is inevitable. But, how change “changes” your reality isn’t as explicit or defined as it is affected by evolutionary forces of which you play an important part.

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have”
– Thomas Jefferson

There’s a difference between management and leadership. There’s a difference between pioneering and following. There’s a difference between exploring possibilities and chasing them.

This is a time when there are more questions than answers. You are not alone however. For without questions, we wander through life assuming we either already have the answers or we underestimate the value of rethinking what we know. Direction, inspiration, need, aspiration…these are individually or collectively among the emotional drivers that become catalysts for change. The minute you say the word “emotion” however, your mission or case suddenly suffers or loses crediblity. Emotions are after all, soft, intangible, and in of themselves, not true sparks for transformation right? Wrong.

Let me ask you something…

How are you?

I have a point, I promise.

Again, how are you?

To answer, you might say, “fine,” “good” or “well thanks for asking.” The exchange is more of a casual ice-breaker of sorts and not necessarily a genuine invitation to share any form of emotional depth. The question is often relegated to a verbal handshake, a necessary ritual to begin a conversation. That’s my point. Today, organizations in large part, take emotion for granted. “How was our service today?” It’s a superficial exchange that sets impressions for the moment rather than investing in long-term experiences.

Now, what if I asked you, “how are you feeling?”

Add one word and you unlock a vault of emotion and valuable dialogue. In a social economy where paying it forward and reciprocity serve as the currency of relationships, emotional exchanges form strong ties. It takes asking, listening, and responding to instill trust and a sense of meaning into any engagement. What you walk away with however is priceless; for you now have felt empathy. And, empathy is the secret ingredient to feeling the need for transformation…the inspiration to find a creative or passionate spark to design new and significant experiences.

The key for you however, is to package what it is you feel and translate it into a set of relatable and relevant objectives, pragmatic steps in how to achieve them, and defined metrics that demonstrate progress and performance. Your inspiration will at some point inspire others around you and they will feel it as a result of your work.

The truth is that the answers you seek lie in engagement, listening, and the empathy that surfaces as a result. Leadership unfolds in how you translate what you learn and feel into appreciation and understanding. The state of sentiment as experienced and expressed by those that matter to you directly correlates to the state of relationships.

Leadership begins with a vision for not only where you want to go, but why it’s important to those you care about.

In a world where we’re taught the importance of monitoring and measuring sentiment with the new tools before us, we miss the essential ingredient to meaningful relationships…empathy. Once you listen, not monitor, but truly listen to customer activity and observe online behavior, you cannot help but feel both empathy and harmony. And naturally, the response it begets is only human.

Part of a series…

Part I – It Takes Courage

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The End of Business as Usual is officially here…

57 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “It Takes Empathy”

  1. Sonia says:

    I remember hearing her say that quote (Maya Angelou) on TV and it hit me so hard. Building my business has been a labor of love, but recently I realized how much more valuable I could be to my readers, if I listened more to how they felt about certain areas they struggled with. The posts I publish on my site and the new things I have in store to help them feel better about their own goals while providing more value and truly listening to their wants and needs.  Thanks Brian, I needed a post like this today.

  2. How am I feeling now?  Inspired.  Grateful.

    As usual, Brian, you have beautifully crafted a wake-up call to everyone — not just businesses, not just brand managers, but regular human beings who do, in fact, need to be reminded that empathy is the foundation of relationships.  I am sharing this with my closest family members in addition to my colleagues and then with my social media circles.

    Thank you.

  3. Corey Ganser says:

    This is an excellent article Brian.  Thank you!

  4. I see a setting sun but I don’t see that has pessimistic at all.  Sunrises AND sunsets are both beautiful. All the same, your message on empathy is clear and profound.

  5. Brian,

    Wow! This hit home with me. It brought tears to my eyes that some else understands where we need to go. You described my feelings perfectly why I am building a business to improve the placement of human-capital at best fit provided by the long-tail of the market for the long-tail of the market. 

  6. Kathryn Deiss says:

    Excellent post. I would add that leaders – and all of us – need to rediscover the natural compassion for each other that we were born with. Compassion and empathy go hand in glove. It is about seeking to understand one another and that is rooted in feeling. The Maya Angelou quote is right on. As an organizational development consultant I have see people respond to empathy and the lack of empathy from leaders.

  7. Great post Brian. I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with you last year on behalf of one of my clients for an online event called IBF24. The topic was actually outside of your then stated area of expertise – it dealt with internal as opposed to external social media. It turned out to be one of the most informative (and now looking back) most on target interviews I’ve conducted on the topic. The reason? Reading this today it hit me – Empathy. You were one of the only people truly reaching out, finding and listening to people dealing with real issues inside organizations. Others were professing “inherent problems”, but your thoughts and observations were exponentially more cogent. I can only believe it was the result of you practicing then what you have just preached now. Thanks for providing today’s inspiration.  

  8. Kristina Reilly says:

    I can always count on you adding value to my day.

  9. Jose Huitron says:

    Brian, this post is pure genius in its most elegant digital form. Truth be told appreciation beats out self promotion every time. I recently read a little Facebook pic that talked about the half full vs half empty debate and it capped off by saying “While you guys were busy arguing about the glass…I drank the water. – Sincerely, the Opportunist.” That’s where real progress lies. Empathy is the gateway to understanding that engagement is about appreciation and understanding others. May we all drink the water!

  10. Glenn Pasch says:

    Great post. I have written about this in my own articles but you have laid it out in such a clear manner. Courage is something we have to embrace because as you chart a new course, the detractors want to bring you back to a level they can understand. Jealousy, I am sorry to say, is often the motivator for these attacks. But we must keep our commitment to our course in order to fulfill our destiny. Thanks again for you work.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Caring and empathy are infinite resources.  Listening for 5 minutes… really listening, can build a stronger long lasting relationships.  The trick is to scale it to establish relationships that can drive value creation and business results

  12. Karla Campos says:

    Great post, going to try that “how are you feeling?” approach since I actually want a real answer from people and not just the conversation dead end you get with “how are you?”.

  13. Teri says:

    How are you feeling?
    I’m feeling quite inspired myself 😉

    • briansolis says:

      Hello Teri, thank you for asking. I was feeling the need for inspiration when I wrote it. It’s fascinating to me the difference between the question and also the intent behind it. Do you really “want” to know how I am or is it just part of the ritual ice breaking ceremony we need to get to the heart of the matter. 🙂

  14. SandyJK says:

    This post is one for the record books, Brian and I’m inspired to share it now and in the future (just tweeted it).

    For some unfortunate reason, many people think you have to be born with what I’ve heard referred to as the “empathy gene,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. As you indicate, we all have the ability to develop this skill/trait, but we must choose to do the simple things like truly listen to, and have some compassion for, each other.

    (Sorry I had to miss you at the SFAMA event this past week!)

  15. Ed Terpening says:

    Reading these thoughts of compassion (on a Sunday, no less!) is energizing.  Brian is “taking us to church” today! 🙂

  16. Bryan Kramer says:

    Absolutely agree. Empathy is our greatest gift as humans (marketers), once we harness it as a tool in the right direction. All the technology in the world can’t replace how you respond to someone. Cheers!

  17. Lima Bean says:

    Forgive me, but you say “change is invertible”. At first I read it as “change is inevitable”, but then I realised it was invertible. I don’t fully understand.

  18. Lima Bean says:

    I neglected to mention that I fully enjoyed the article, but am perplexed by the point highlighted, so I’d really appreciate clarity.

    • briansolis says:

      an auto-correct that actually could work! for a moment, I thought about coming up with an interesting explanation, but the truth is…change is “INEVITABLE” not invertible 🙂

  19. I think it’s interesting that you see sunrise as positive and sunset as negative. Frankly, I think I see it the opposite – what happens after sunset is often way more interesting than what happens during the day (which is generally work).

  20. Brian,

    Your post has been on my mind for days. I have thought about it a lot. I’ve concluded that the causal relationships you describe between factors and empathy could be represented by a Pareto “power law” where plots (i.e. members of the population) constantly shift between the head and tail. The graph is not static but dynamic, where each and every one of us act and “package what it is [we] feel” then lead accordingly. Because the power law is fractal this can happen over the kitchen table with family, in a board room with peers, on a bus between two strangers, on a blog post, etc. sharing, listening, and responding to each other. It is this vision, inspired by your post, where we all take turns “leading” in ways you describe that gives me hope. We are all “customers” of each other Brian, at different times. Thank you for the inspiration!

  21. Carrie says:

    Profound Brian, profound…  I’m going to be rereading this post for a few days to get everything I need to take from it….  Your timing for this article could not be any better timing..  Thank you for sharing your thoughts:)

  22. exploreB2B says:

    Thanks, Brian. Here’s a little story about your inquiry experiment. 

    Whenever someone would ask my grandmother, “How are you?” – she would raise her eyebrow and reply, “Well, I don’t have the plague.” She would then inform them that the conversation-starter originated during the time of the Black Plague, to warn others of whether or not they should stay away; the question was asked in trepidation. (I am not sure how accurate this statement is, but I always believed it.) 

    Her point was not to make the inquirer uncomfortable (though, it often did), but to get them to consider what they intended to receive by asking this question. Was there really any sincerity behind this learned formality? I don’t think I ever heard the same person ask the question twice, without (at least) being prepared.  

    I appreciate the depth of your post. It’s a healthy reminder to take ownership of our actions and to consider what it truly means to be empathetic.


  23. You’re so insightful! I’m jealous of your intellectuality — spot on. However, the dictionary defines intellectuality as, “Rational rather than emotional” and after this post of yours, we find your both rational AND emotional. Therefore, I suppose i’m only half jealous of your intellect 🙂

  24. Prerna Singh says:

    I totally agree with Carrie. I feel exactly how she feels! I am going to read this time and again to inspire my purpose. Thank you Brian for writing this! 

  25. Your inspiration will at some point inspire others around you and they will feel it as a result of your work.

  26. Jose says:

    That’s why in a time where we’re actively pushed out of our comfort zones, perspective is a powerful enabler.

  27. fence fabric says:

    Otherwise, it’s a glass with water sitting at the half-way mark.

  28. Rocky says:

    But we must keep our commitment to our course in order to fulfill our destiny. Thanks again for you work.

  29. This theoretical circle of dissension is constant and without the
    ability to achieve closure or satisfaction. It all comes down to
    perspective. That’s why in a time where we’re actively pushed out of our
    comfort zones, perspective is a powerful enabler.

  30. Aaron says:

    That’s why in a time where we’re actively pushed out of our comfort zones, perspective is a powerful enabler.

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