Empathy is the Antidote to Resentment

If you’re groaning at the prospect of another ‘soft skills’ blogpost, hang on. The soft stuff is what enables ‘hard’ stuff like profits, speed and success. Here’s what I mean.

You Might Be Copping a Resentment If…

You may not think you’re a resentful person. And maybe, graded on a curve, you’re not.

But how often do you find yourself muttering at the driver who cut you off; re-arguing arguments in your head, where you win this time; waking up in the middle of the night pre-occupied with your checking account; and gossiping with someone about how so-and-so really isn’t all that?

All those are versions of wishing you could change reality—when you can’t. And that’s a pretty good definition of resentment.

It’s the difference between hoping and wishing. Hoping things will change is fine, particularly if you’re doing something to help the change. But wishing that things were other than they are—that is living in an alternative universe. And that’s resentment. It’s fine to hope you win the lottery—as long as you bought a ticket. But wishing you’d won last week’s lottery—that’s resentment territory.

By living in an alternative universe, you’re playing at being God. Unless, worse yet, you think it’s not play, and you actually believe that all your wishing makes a dime’s worth of difference to Reality. There is a God–and you’re not it.

Resentment generally, eventually, manifests as resentment against other people. But personal resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. All it does is eat you up from inside, while the Resented One is either blissfully unaware, or at least generally doesn’t give much of a damn. 

Why Resentment Kills Sales and Influence

This is not afternoon TV psycho-babble. It makes a daily difference in business—a huge difference. Let’s just take business development and advice-giving.

If you are prone to the Black Art of Resentment, then you are likely to believe in short cuts, quick fixes, fad diets, new interpersonal techniques, flashy methodologies, and come-on lines for dating bars. Because all those gimmicks appeal to your desire to live in a world other than this one: one in which you can dominate, control, bend the other’s will to your desire. And when they let you down—and they do, and they will—you will once again feel Old Friend Resentment (or its kissing cousin, self-pity).

People don’t buy from those who are trying to change them. People don’t pay attention to people who are trying to persuade them to their own viewpoint. People don’t take advice from those whose egos are tied up in having their advice taken. They interpret all those things as attempts to manipulate, and they shun the manipulator. This is not a good thing.

The Best Way to Sell and Influence

The best way to sell and influence is to get rid of resentment; get rid of living in alternative universes; accept everything, starting with the customer in front of you.

Acceptance in this case means taking them at face value, getting to know them on their terms, giving up all attachment to outcome (because that’s about you, not them), and applying your focus, energy and attention to them. Let’s call that empathy.

If you do that, and spend your time and energy seeking to understand them, you’ll do a far better job of understanding them and their needs than all the other resentment-fueled alternate-universe salespeople and advisors. One result of which is, you’ll end up selling more and having your advice taken more often.

Goals are Great, but An Expectation is a Pre-meditated Resentment

Goals are great. So are objectives and milestones and targets. They give you a sense of what you’re aiming for, and help you envision the to-be state. 

But don’t confuse goals with their purpose. The purpose of a goal is not to achieve the goal—the purpose of a goal is to help you achieve your True Purpose. You should never confuse a quarterly sales quota with a Purpose.

It’s when goals get transmuted into expectations that we confuse goals with purpose. When we start living in that alternative universe defined by the goals, when we start obsessing over the new car, winning the contest, getting the boss’s approval, ranking in the top 20% on the bonus plan—that’s when we begin to have expectations. And an expectation is a pre-meditated resentment. When we expect, we are setting ourselves up for resentment.

Plan, set goals, and strive. Then celebrate what you get; because to bemoan what you haven’t got is to live in resentment. A life spent wishing you were other than you are is a failed attempt at playing god, and a recipe for unhappiness—not to mention poor sales.








1 reply
  1. Mark Slatin
    Mark Slatin says:

    Masterfully done Charlie,

    You hit on so many good points that get to the root of problems that are often masked by what’s on paper (goals, quotas, margins, call data, etc.).  As a former Sales Manager and now a  Consultant that helps firms grow their sales, I admit I can easily fall into the trap of holding someone else accountable to my expectations.

    Too often I’m holding an empty cup and waiting for them to die.  I love how you reframe the purpose of goals.  Realizing we’re all human and that we’d doin’ our darned best most of the time, and grace is what we all need is a start.

    Inspiring piece.


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