I’m witnessing such an influx these days of “Learn how to Tweet” courses, and “Use Facebook to Win Clients and Influence People” workshops. It’s got me quite frustrated. I’m also growing weary of the “Want to Pick My Brain? That will be $400,000 a day!” conversation.

I’m afraid we’re moving away from the things we should be focusing on in order to be successful (and help our clients be successful) in the world of online communication. We’re focused on money and tools again.

We need to focus on the people.

Take me to the common ground. It’s a little known fact, that in my spare time, I study World Religions. I’ve always had a fascination for different faiths and cultures, but what I’m most into is looking at religion as a whole, and finding the common threads through them, and how those commonalities play themselves out in teachings, belief structure and ritual. I’m far from a scholar on this subject, though if I ever decide to go to university, this is what I’ll study.

One of the commonalities of all religions is compassion. The Buddha defined compassion and presence. Jesus was compassion personified, and he did his best to teach others too. Compassion is also a central part of the Muslim and Jewish faiths. Most people are taught compassion from a very young age, through their family’s faith system. Even those that are not brought up in a religious household are able to pick things up from their teachers, and hopefully their family members.

So it stands to reason that most of us should understand, and practice compassion without too much trouble, right? Sure, we try, but I don’t think that we’re always succeeding at being compassionate.

True compassion is not easy. It’s not hard to pat a friend on the back when he’s having a bad day. But to do it with genuine compassion? That can take a lot out of you. Because being genuinely compassionate means seeing the situation from somebody else’s point of view – and that can be painful. It can be hard for us to face our own problems on a daily basis, let alone others’!

So I think that the average person, when faced with being truly compassionate, will pick and choose their battles carefully. They’ll take on the burden of pain for their children, or their spouse, or their immediate family. But when it comes to other friends, colleagues, or especially people we interact with online? Much, much harder.

Here’s the thing though. Being truly compassionate is one of the primary ways to develop trust within your networks. And the first key to cultivating compassion is to be a really, really good listener. And isn’t that what we’re all saying about building social media strategies? Listen first?

Here’s the difference between “listening” and “listening compassionately”. Listening is about searching for keywords, finding people who are talking about the thing you’re interested in, and monitoring until someone says the right thing at the right moment, so you can pounce. Listening compassionately is not only about finding those conversations, but listening to what people are really talking about. Don’t just search for a keyword. Read what’s being said. Understand what problems exist. Ask relevant questions. Get involved in the emotion and passion of what other people care about. Only with a compassionate ear, will you be able to get to the heart of matters, and then figure out how what you offer, or sell, or want to market can help.

The pleasant side effect of this approach is, it takes time to listen compassionately. So, you’re not jumping in to the conversation right away, offering a solution, or shilling your wares (which never works). You’re taking time to hear other people out, to ask them questions, to get to know them – to develop a relationship based on trust, and…you guessed it! Compassion.

A lot of people won’t bother with the compassionate route. It takes too much time. It can be emotionally draining. So, the very nature of being compassionate gives you a strategic advantage.

Compassion is hard work, but it’s far from draining. I have no trouble getting to sleep at night because I’m feeding off the emotion and energy of the people I’m working with – online and off. I’m giving so much of myself, but in return I’m getting so much back. And because of this exchange of energy, my business is thriving and my personal relationships are strong.

And isn’t exchange of energy and compassion what life is all about?

On The Dalai Lama’s Facebook page this morning, was the following quote:

“Some people think that cultivating compassion is good for others but not necessarily good for themselves, but this is wrong. You are the one who benefits most directly since compassion immediately instills in you a sense of calm, inner strength, and a deep confidence and satisfaction, whereas it is not certain that the object of your feeling of compassion will benefit.”

His Holiness is saying that in fact, cultivating compassion creates a calming force in our life. It’s the ultimate satisfaction, because being compassionate enables us to listen more intently, and speak our minds more clearly – even if we’re not certain our energy will be understood or reciprocated. Compassion is selfless, but the irony is, it actually benefits us first.

Be a better communicator – just by cultivating compassion. Kinds makes sense, eh?

[photo credit: Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr]