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My Golden Rule

One of my favorite questions to ask someone is: what’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Answers tend to vary depending on the context of the question or someone’s present frame of mind. If I peg my mom with this question while we’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner together, she’ll probably give a quick tip on how to cut onions without burning your eyes. If I ask my boss in our weekly 1:1, I’m more likely to get a response that relates to business. That said, I’m going to share with you the very best advice I’ve ever received and, while it may not protect my eyes from the burn of onions, it’s applicable to quite nearly every other scenario in both personal and professional contexts.

My golden nugget of wisdom came in the form of an activity that has stuck with me forever and has served me well in both my personal relationships and business pursuits, because it automatically orients my mind into a position of empathy, which is foundational to any kind of human interaction. Sometimes we confuse the words empathy with sympathy, so let me sidestep for one moment and clarify. While sympathy is obviously an essential to normal human interaction (isn’t lack of sympathy a defining characteristic of a sociopath? Don’t be that.), it is not an always-on emotion. By definition, sympathy is a sorrow for another’s misfortune. In contrast, empathy is the identification with/understanding of another person’s feelings – not limited to sorrow, Empathy is and should be an always-on emotion.

K, Psychology 101 over, back to the activity. I had just started my first job as a young, eager sales rep at a tech company in D.C. where my clients would be owners of QSR restaurants. Great. I knew next to nothing about quick service restaurants, except which ones serve my favorite fries (answer: Chic-Fil-A, no question. Don’t @ me.). I thought my onboarding would be a deep-dive into the inner-workings of how a QSR business is run so that I could craft the most perfect cold call script to hit right on the owner’s pain points and basically make him/her beg me for my solution. Wrong (and also, there’s no such thing as the perfect cold email but there are key tactics to increase engagement and response. More on that in another post soon.) My assignment was to visit a handful of different restaurant locations and interview the hourly staff on exactly how they were measured against success. If you’re confused how talking with high school part-timers would help me sell to CEOs of multi-unit restaurant conglomerates, so was I. The goal was to gain an understanding of what was most important to each business so that I could ensure that anything I provided was only contributing to that end goal. It turned out to be the single most valuable activity I have ever done and I am so, so grateful for what it taught me.

Remember how they’re measured.

See, at the end of the day, people are self-centered. I’m not saying all people are selfish or lacking consideration, simply that we all tend to be most preoccupied with our own lives. By actively asking the restaurant employees what success looks like to them, I was given insight into what’s important to them. And since what’s important to us is often related to our own self-focus, understanding how someone is measured gives you the roadmap to what matters most to them. When you know what matters most, you can figure out how best to serve. Find out how someone is measured and you have the building blocks for a level of trust that will propel your personal and business relationships forward. If your primary concern is what’s best for another person, and what’s best for them is helping them achieve their end goal, you can become an invaluable resource for them to achieve that goal.

I have yet to find a scenario where this philosophy doesn’t stand true. Seriously, try it out. Whenever you are interacting with someone, whether personally or professionally, try to answer the questions: what is most important to them and how can I provide value to that end? You’ll see how much that frame of mind allows you to be empathetic, to ask the right questions, and to truly invest in the good of the other person in a way that moves both of your goals forward.

Your turn! Share with the femme|brain community the best little nuggets of wisdom you’ve heard – comment below!

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