key to success

There’s new research that proves my favorite key to success really, truly works.

Of course, everyone has a theory on what it takes to strike it rich, climb the ladder or get famous. If you look up “keys to success” on Amazon, you’ll find over 83,000 books, movies and other resources listed. And on Google? There are more than 49 million links to related content. Well, add my theory to the list:

I think the key to success is empathy.


Last night, I read an article that made me go “duh!!!” and then “yes!!!” It’s in the February issue of Wired; a story on the growing body of research that shows sick patients who feel well-cared-for by their doctors are more likely to get better. For years, we’ve known the power of suggestion – the placebo effect. When sick people are secretly given a fake pill instead of real medicine, they often get better anyway; depends on the illness and the person, of course, but I love that example of the power of thought! But what those studies never took into account was the bedside manner of the prescribing doctors.

Now, Wired says, new research from Harvard Medical School sheds light on the impact of a little TLC. Researchers tracked a group of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The patients received fake treatment (acupuncture needles that didn’t actually pierce the skin) from a friendly, warm researcher who asked detailed questions about their lives. And guess what? They saw diminished symptoms – as much as is normally seen among IBS patients who receive medical intervention. They did the same test on other patients, but this time it was administered by a gruff practitioner who communicated very little with his patients. Can you guess what happened? Those patients saw no improvement in their symptoms. It’s the latest in a series of studies that keep pointing out the obvious: when a medical professional cares about his or her patients and shows it, magic happens. Love heals.

Duh!!! and Yes!!!!

I love that this is no longer a rainbows-and-glitter-and-unicorns theory, but one backed up by scientific evidence. I mean, really think on that: we now know that when a person feels taken care of and cared about, it has a miraculous effect – they don’t just feel warm and fuzzy, but literally begin to heal as if they’d just popped a pill. And if a little empathy can do that within your body, think what it could do in a business meeting, in a sales call, in a blog post.

When I worked in public relations, I spent tens of thousands of dollars with vendors and agencies every month. Their services were often quite similar, so my decision on whom to work with often came down the rep who seemed to genuinely care about me and my success: they not only fulfilled their commitments but they asked about my family, sent thoughtful notes, anticipated my needs, understood how I worked. I could detect the phonies; it was the people who seemed to have genuine concern for me that I wanted to work with. And as I reflect on the people and services I pay for today – from printing to dry cleaning to coaching – the same is true.

So, it’s no surprise that when I get feedback from my own repeat clients, they regularly reveal that they feel seen, heard, understood, lifted up…cared for. That’s music to my ears. And I really believe it’s the key to success: serve others not only with your work, but with your heart. When you genuinely care about the people you work with, write for, sell to…they feel good, you feel good and magic happens.

(note: card in above photo is art by kelly rae roberts)