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Building Trust in the Digital Era: Lead with Empathy. Strive for Compassion.

A Warm And Welcoming Coworker

As part of my quest to understand the human mind and practice the ways that allow us to be better individuals each day, I have enjoyed implementing those learnings into my professional life as well with an intent to be a better leader and a team member.

One of the terms that has been on the forefront in recent years, especially this year, is “empathy.” Many leaders and CEOs have spoken publicly about empathy in their leadership approach, team building, and the overall success of an organization.

In 1909, psychologist Edward Titchener translated the German word Einfühlung (meaning, “in feeling”) to English as “empathy.” Over the years, psychologists and neuroscientists have expanded the meaning of empathy to the association with the understanding of other people. As I studied further, I came across a very simple yet powerful infographic by Robert Shelton that explained the spectrum of empathy, shown below:

Even though empathy is a popular word in personal and professional development, it does have one drawback. Empathy teaches us to feel for and understand another person, but it does not teach us about what to do with that understanding. That next level is achieved when we take the feeling of empathy and make it actionable to help others— that, in essence, is “compassion.”

Of course, compassion is not a new concept either. And while studies show that successful leaders are the most compassionate, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that compassion doesn’t just need to apply to our business and team. It should also apply to client interactions. Being part of the strategy consulting and technology services industry, a lot of us do this already when we aim to client resolve pain points in business operations. Let’s expand on both these aspects.

Compassion in Leadership & Building Strong Teams

Let’s take the obvious out of the equation. Approaching a conversation by simply feeling pity for someone is not going to result in a healthy and result-oriented conversation. Hence, it is the least engaged emotion in the spectrum.

Sometimes we do sympathize with people when we feel that things are outside of our control. Although, this is where the thought of empathy becomes more relevant with an intention that why just care when you can be more attached to the person and the situation by feeling it. Hence, empathy. When you feel for your colleague, you are more connected to that scenario and build further understanding and respect for their situation and concerns, which is why it has been taught in many training sessions that we should empathize with people.

What would be even better is if we can take that engagement with our colleague to the next level. Let’s practice listening to them, but in the end, if we can convert the conversation into a series of action items that is where you begin to build trust. Plus, it will potentially lead to tangible action items and a result as well. This way, we not only build trust but also are able to resolve issues, or at least attempt to.

Compassion in Building Trusted Client Relationships

Once again, let’s take a couple of obvious ones out of the equation. Pity or sympathy in our conversations with our clients is not going to get us (or them) on a path to a successful partnership.

Empathy, the next level up in the spectrum of engagement, does help to build a respectable relationship with the executives we interact with, as it helps us understand their pain points, their point of view, their vision for growth, and in the end, helps strengthen our conversations.

In this scenario, it is a bit obvious that we are getting in front of our clients and respective executives with the intention to assist them in their business growth. If we don’t do a good job of that, those companies are going to reach out to someone else. It’s as simple as that.

One approach is to quickly push a solution approach and expect it to get approved. In such a case, more often than not, we run the risk of missing the mark of the company’s needs and the proposed approach will not align with their immediate needs and long-term goals. It always helps if we listen, understand, be fair and respectful, and then structure a set of tangible action items to help alleviate pain points and get the company on a path for growth.

The goal is not to provide an impulse solution option, but rather to build a trusted partnership between our companies. Leading with compassion gets us there.

A lot of these concepts have been well-researched and written about extensively, but it never hurts to have a refresher. Hope you all are being compassionate in your day-to-day interactions.


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Ritesh Keskar

Ritesh is an eCommerce Practice Director and PIM Consultant at Perficient. His role is to provide consultation to clients for their Product Information Management strategy alongside their Commerce Solutions roadmap, as well as to assist with platform selection and implementation.

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