“Individuals can select from a vast cyber-sea of media and utterly saturate their information space exclusively with information sources that reinforce existing world views.   Each of us can create our own personal media walled garden that surrounds us with comforting, confirming information, and utterly shuts out anything that conflicts with our  world view.  This is social dynamite, for shared knowledge and information is the glue that holds civil society together.  It is the stuff that caused people to change their opinions and to empathize with others [in the past].”

This new media efficiency breeds a sort of narcissism.  I particularly worry about my young daughter’s generation that seems to be in thrall to the cheap grace of Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook conformity, seeking social media confirmation.  “Look at me.  Love me. Want me.  Friend me.”  This is an emotional prostitution that confirms peer conformity and ersatz connection.  It is lazy.  And it is also prophylactic to real empathy and growth.

As part of this not so brave new world, this navel-gazing is habitualized and institutionalized.  It is all too easy to not make the effort to listen for the new, for anything that truly challenges our comfort level or opens paths of doubt and mutual vulnerability.

Over 20 years leading my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International, it has become clear to me that true empathy is certainly the key to executive selling, particularly into the C-suite.  Our technology is universally eroding this skill, even for owners dealing with their peers.  I feel business leaders increasingly settle for quick, glib contact, rather than focused and thoughtful attention.

Rich Karlgaard, in Forbes Magazine quotes a recent commencement speech by Leon Weiseltier at a Brandeis graduation ceremony. Weiseltier says,  “For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method.  We live in a society inebriated by technology and, happily, even giddily, governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience.”

People are inconvenient.  (French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said famously, “Hell is other people.”)  Empathy requires time, attention, and spiritual generosity.  Technology may celebrate connectedness, but it actually encourages a waning of deep human connection.

It takes work to really connect.  Emails and, even better, texting, allow us to avoid the emotional effort and risk of real human contact.  We are using technology to create efficiency, to save time.  But the saved time is increasingly bereft of richness, intimacy, and depth.

How do you serve a client or a customer well without listening for the nuance of his needs?  Empathy is the essential business skill that allows this to happen.

Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”  Yes.  Thank you, Ernest.