Dan Heffernan

The Case for Compassion in Business

Merriam-Webster defines the word compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

I don’t believe “Business Compassion” is an oxymoron. Here’s why:

In a business-to-business context, relationships with clients can be misconstrued as relationships between two businesses. This is false. A corporate entity does not have the ability to “relate” to another corporate entity. Relationships between companies always exist at the human level, because only humans can relate to and with one another. Naturally then, the quality of a business-to-business relationship is defined by the relationships between the humans at those organizations. It follows then, that all of the ways of relating come into play that are typical of our human relationships: kindness, patience, tolerance, empathy, compassion, and all of their opposites, of course!

So when a client of ours is having a rough time of it, it is compassion that moves us to offer a special discount on services for a period of time. It’s not that we feel sympathetic toward the corporate entity. It’s that we feel sympathetic toward the people who work at that organization and what they are going through. Generally, we don’t want to see our clients (nor our suppliers) fail!

Recently I was interviewing some candidates for a new position and had the opportunity to talk about the difference between business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing. One of the challenges of effective B2B marketing is getting at the emotions of the potential customer. How is it that we can get a prospect to “want” to buy our products or services? That “want” is usually influenced by numerous factors, but emotions play a very important role. Generally, people end up buying (or recommending) a product or service coming from a company with whom they experience positive emotions. Selling an intangible, like software, makes that emotional reaction all the more challenging – and important.

Back to compassion. Some of us are born with compassion. Others of us need to practice it in order for it to grow. People suffer. My wife and I are amazed by just how much some people suffer. Misery is not spread evenly over the population. A cousin of my wife lost her father, only brother and husband in a short span of time. A friend struggling with breast cancer has just been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her brain. A young man lost his grandfather to Covid and is now facing serious health issues himself. Situations like these call for compassion.

Relationships with colleagues and clients should be treated with care. We have no idea how someone may be suffering. People are fragile; it’s easy to crush someone who is already nearly broken. Even for those not in pain, people need to be shown respect, dignity and affirmation. Our company supports a charity that provides medical, dental and other services including a food pantry to those in need. One of the things we were told by the director during a recent tour of the facility is that they don’t like to see generic food brands on their shelves in the food pantry. The needy deserve the dignity of name-brand goods!

Everyone deserves dignity as human beings, regardless of what we’ve done or not done. It’s who we are as humans that makes us worthy of respect.

Business compassion makes us better business people. Clients want vendors who care. Clients of a vendor who demonstrates business compassion will provide good references. They will also be repeat customers.

Business compassion also positively impacts the corporate culture within an organization. Employees want to work for managers who care. Perhaps more importantly, though, it positively impacts the person who shows it with a sense of satisfaction, having done something good for another. Most of us have experienced how it is better to give than to receive.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we all turn into emotional sops at the office. I'm just suggesting that we show our colleagues, employees and clients the dignity, understanding and support they deserve as human beings.

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