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I talk a lot about being empathetic and compassionate to people when I lead design on products or marketing strategies. But what hit me yesterday was – am I really getting in touch with other people’s feelings or am I just thinking that I am?

I had a conversation with one of my best friends. She was sad and concerned about how her life was going. We have had this same conversation so many time over the last 10 years. She gets really down and shares that she has never felt loved in her whole life and doesn’t believe anyone will ever love her. It’s really hard to listen to her because I love her. Instantly I am thinking well it can’t be everyone because I love you. And then it gets darker and darker as the pain and suffering gets stronger and stronger until she is so upset she starts to say things that are untrue even within our shared consensus reality.

The darkness is so big she has lost all hope. She tells me she has never been loved and that no one will ever love her. She does not believe it is possible for her to be successful in her business ideas. She doesn’t know what there is to live for. And right in that moment, I noticed – I go into optimistic helping mode, fixing mode, changing mode. I want her to realize she is loved so much and see that she is so upset she isn’t even saying anything in line with the reality we both know, that I am trying to convince her that she is loved and invalidate her reality.

But then it hit me, like WOW HOLY F*CK! I just tuned in that I haven’t been receptive to her pain.

I haven’t sat there with her enough accepting her feelings exactly as they are without worrying if she is right or wanting to help her to make things better. To really be there in her pain, to sit there fully present with her I had to give something up. Desiring to change someone isn’t being present to them. So what could I possibly let go that was blocking me from being with her? I had to let go of needing her or wanting her to realize that she is loved and can be successful. This really hurt. I didn’t want to let this idea go.

But in the moment in which I let go of how I wanted things to be, I was able to be there with her in pain. I started to cry, to really get in touch with wow there is so much suffering right here, right now. And I just sat with it, with her and started to acknowledge all of the pain.

She said no one listens to me. I have never been heard. And I couldn’t disagree because all the time I thought I was listening, I was waiting for my turn to speak to change the situation. I had never really sat there and just heard the depth of her suffering.Compassion literally means to sit together in suffering. All the time I thought I was being compassionate, I was avoiding feeling her pain.

So this got me thinking about how I design. I do think about people’s pain points because I want to fix them, alleviate them and help people have happy purchasing decisions paths, product journeys and brand experiences. But what if from now on I sit more with customer pain and just am fully present to it without jumping into the fixing mode. Can I just sit with it, really feel all of it, wallow in it? Can I empathize fully in order to be compassionate? How much more powerful could I be in my life by taking more time to be present to people’s painful experiences before worrying about putting compassion into action?

“Empathy is key to compassion, but important difference: Empathy enables one to feel another’s pain; compassion enables one to alleviate it.” Jeff Weiner

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