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]

13 Responses

  1. I'm quite fascinated that this was [re]tweeted so many times and yet no comments on it. Is that a sign that this was a perfect post that wrapped everything up succinctly and there's nothing left to say? 🙂

    FWIW, what resonated most about this post for me was that it made me realize that compassion is especially needed online. Without nonverbal cues, it's very challenging to get all of the information you need in a conversation — especially when that convo is asynchronous and 140 chars at a time.

  2. I feel like I've lost all of my compassion over the years of being online, from experiencing uncivilised behaviour, barbs, insensitivity and straight-up hatred. That spilled out into my offline world. And then some family crap happened and one of the coolest people I'll ever meet died, and… well, I feel less compassion now. I didn't mean it to happen. I'm cynical, I'm raw. I'm moody and I'm impatient. I'm cut off and I'm not reaching out. I've never been religious but I always had a quiet faith in people. Over the years those same people have found chipped away at it. My prime directive for every decision in my live used to come from being a Feeler (anyone who knows the Myers=Briggs test will know what I'm referring to here), but now I'm not so sure I'm proud of the choice of feelings I'm going with. I no longer blog about anything beyond food (really, one of the only safe online topics to discuss in public anymore), I FB but I block half of my family. I Twitter but I'm constantly pruning my follow and follower lists. I feel rather ill at ease with a lot of things, and a lot of people around me. They don't notice it but I do. I guess I'm good at being disingenuous, which is very new to me because I have always been a Feeler. I'm a Feeler who no longer has any nice or positive or genuine feelings towards my fellow man. I'm only polite to customers till they leave the store because without them, we wouldn't pay our rent or mortgage. I no longer care about relationships the same way or to the same degree I used to.

    And all of this is probably the most I've stated out loud, anywhere, to anyone is the last two years. After I hit Post As… I will resume being the person I have outlined. It's who I am now. A shell of my former self. I can only wait to see if I change back someday. I have a feeling it will involve unplugging permanently, though.

  3. What a great piece, Sue!

    I have also found that I get a lot of joy out of helping people. And along the way, have discovered that I am a great networker, because I help people. I didn't set out to become a networker (ask Alice!) but that was an unlooked for result.

    I did not know about your interest in religion We'll have to talk about that some time. I have a B.A. and an M.A. in Religious Studies.


  4. This is a great post about compassion. I will be linking to it over at Chew The Fat. The older I get I feel the pull to focus on the common threads of all religions. Thanks for the article.

  5. Oh, I certainly didn't cover everything! I would really like to hear
    peoples' take on compassion and communication. It's an important topic!

    You're very right about the fact that online, we often don't have body
    language to guide us to the next step with others. This can make things very
    complicated. It takes practice to be able to read between the lines of what
    others are saying, and it takes time to listen and learn about what drives
    others, what they are passionate about.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  6. Well, everyone must set their own limits on what they provide for free, that
    is definitely true and I definitely am in favour of that. Compassion, I
    think, is slightly different. One can be a compassionate listener without
    being attached to the outcome of that compassion.

    But at the same time, one must be careful, because being compassionate makes
    one vulnerable, and susceptible to people taking advantage of that
    compassion. It's a delicate balance, and the balance is different for

  7. Very interesting post. I had lunch with my writers group (I’m pretty new and it always strikes me how I still feel like the outsider, but that’s another story) yesterday, and one of our members was showing off her new web site, and talking about how her nephew was schooling her in social media. I think she was onboard, until she got to the tweeting part. I think her thinking is, I want to write my books, not tweet about them ad nauseum!

    I’m developing a blog for a lawyer. Haven’t gotten too far yet, as I’ve had other fish to fry. And certainly compassion might be an important consideration for this one, as he deals with people with very serious health issues. I have to tell you, though, I’m feeling tired just reading your post about being compassionate in your online presence! It seems like so much … work.

    I’m definitely working on my communication skills, however — something else we talked about yesterday. I’m touting a book that comes out next month (have a preview copy) called “27 Powers of Persuasion,” which is teaching me some great tricks of the trade, as practiced by lawyers, journalists and politicians, all master communicators (good ones, anyway) themselves. The book represents a new philosophy of persuasion with real tactics to make you more persuasive. And that, to me, is the bottom line.

  8. Well, everyone must set their own limits on what they provide for free, that
    is definitely true and I definitely am in favour of that. Compassion, I
    think, is slightly different. One can be a compassionate listener without
    being attached to the outcome of that compassion.

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