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…

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  • http://www.logallot.com/ Sonia

    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.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you Sonia. We’re in this together…

  • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

    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.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       Thank you Christina…

  • http://twitter.com/coreygans Corey Ganser

    This is an excellent article Brian.  Thank you!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       You’re welcome Corey.

  • http://twitter.com/cherylferrell BW Cheryl Ferrell

    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.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

       Well said :)

  • http://www.placementloop.com/ Kevin Carroll

    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. 

  • Kathryn Deiss

    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.

  • http://www.enterprisestrategies.com/ Andy Jankowski

    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.  

  • Kristina Reilly

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

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      What a wonderful thing to say…thank you.

  • http://www.vistahispano.com/ Jose Huitron

    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!

  • http://www.glennpasch.com/ Glenn Pasch

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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

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  • http://www.giglogo.com Karla Campos

    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?”.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Please report back Karla! :)

    • http://www.giglogo.com Karla Campos

       Will do : )

  • Teri

    Brian:
    How are you feeling?
    I’m feeling quite inspired myself ;)
    ~Teri

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      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. :)

  • http://www.belladomain.com/ SandyJK

    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!)

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  • Ed Terpening

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

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Ed…perfect! Thank you for taking the time to read and for sharing this great comment. :)

  • http://twitter.com/bryankramer Bryan Kramer

    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!

  • http://twitter.com/beanbagboy Lima Bean

    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.

  • http://twitter.com/beanbagboy Lima Bean

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

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      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 :)

  • http://www.newmusicmichael.com/ Michael Senchuk

    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).

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      I don’t see it either way…value is in the eye of the beholder and that’s the real point behind the introduction.

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  • http://www.placementloop.com/ Kevin Carroll

    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!

  • Carrie

    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:)

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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