Maybe it is because I’ve been working with so many distressed Amazon FBA Sellers lately, but my perception is that the online business world has gotten harder and meaner lately. It is disheartening. Blood is in the water and it is stirring up ugly things in the collective unconscious of the seller community. Sellers are playing dirty tricks against me again (new tactic, same evil) which is disheartening to me personally. There is an undercurrent of frustration and anger flowing through so many things related to selling on Amazon that I thought it might help to talk for a few minutes about compassion and kindness.
Wha?!? You don’t think those two words have much to do with business? You would be surprised. In fact, those two words are critical to long-term business and personal health success. To act with kindness not only helps the world around you, it helps you. The greatest thing about kindness is that it is the secret to a happy life. If you don’t believe me, ask Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed to name just a few historical leaders who lived this truth and taught it. Because our businesses are an extension of us as people, when there is conflict between how the business is run and what kind of person you want to be, the result is chaos and failure on one side or the other…or both.
More mistakes are made in distress than in joy. More failures come from arrogance, lack of empathy, dishonesty, carelessness, pride, impatience, loneliness, greed, fear and anger than the virtues. Think back to your last three mistakes this week and see if you can trace what happened back to one of these human frailties. What? No mistakes so far this week? Umm, start with self-dishonesty. Seriously. I’m not talking about giant business-ending mistakes here, just the everyday stuff – the stuff that’s easy to fix or work around. Where did these mistakes come from – joy? Probably not.
In fact, how many business decisions do you make every day from a place of fear or anger? Oh, you might call it uncertainty, nervousness, doubt, frustration…but those are just smoothing words for bigger, scarier feelings. Because business IS a risk, there will always be some of that lurking around. It’s natural and human. So how do you reduce those feelings and negative influences and increase the positive? Kindness and compassion. While the words are often used interchangeably, they are different.
Kindness – the state or quality of being kind, a kind act, kind behavior.
Compassion – a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
As you can see, compassion the feeling often leads to kindness, the act. What surprises some people is that being kind can also lead to greater compassion and caring for one’s fellow man. It can be a virtuous cycle.
So what does this have to do with selling stuff on Amazon? Everything! Selling is about PEOPLE even with a technology aided platform like Amazon. Many sellers who get in trouble with Amazon do so because they forgot about their customer – something Amazon is RABID about. They are slow to respond, they are curt and rude in their responses, they sell shoddy product, they deliver late, they lie in their listings, they try to sell products that promote cruelty to animals (!), they let their edible items expire and then they wonder why their customers are so upset and Amazon has suspended them.
Even if you have never gotten in trouble with Amazon before, you might in the future because 1) Amazon is cracking down like Zeus’ lightning bolt on even minor infractions and 2) your business ultimately reflects your mindset. It is inevitable. The good news is that virtue also shows up in your business. A kind heart moved by compassion will ultimately be more satisfied in business and life. Kindness and financial wealth are NOT mutually exclusive, but sometimes people think they are. Values such as profit and efficiency sometimes take on greater importance at the expense of human warmth and genuine presence.
I think this trend is a mistake. Here is a look at the benefits of kindness and how they might benefit your business:
To be honest is to live a transparent life unburdened by secrets and shame. It makes is easier for you because you don’t have to remember the lies you’ve told and it helps build trust with others. With no lies muddying the waters, you can see clearly into a situation or person. It is also a very hard way to live. It means being vulnerable. Honesty is often embarrassing. The truth can be sharp and uncomfortable. If you are admitting mistakes and other frailties, you are open to attack by the less compassionate. You may be afraid of what others think of you if you tell the truth. In business you may feel you have to lie in order to make the sale and it is important to sell, right? Maybe the person you are lying to is yourself when you say stuff like “that doesn’t really matter,” and “everyone else does it,” “Amazon will never know…” Here’s the thing with honesty, it matters to YOU. It is your soul we are talking about here. Whether you can justify an action or not is irrelevant in the long run because your heart knows the difference. Lie detectors work because they detect the STRESS we undergo every time we lie! Lying hurts us physically, emotionally, socially and financially. Every time we say “yes” when we really want to say “no,” hurts us. Every time we pull something over on someone else we are hurting ourselves. What a bitch.
Keep that stress in mind when you are conditioning your inventory, considering whether or not to buy from a shady source, repackaging returns or playing nasty tricks on other sellers (I’ve seen so much of that lately – it turns my stomach. WTF people, WTF).
Honesty isn’t just about the difficult, unpleasant aspects of life. Many people also hide their tenderness, goodwill, original thoughts and capacity for being moved. While part of this may be reserve (there’s no crying in baseball!), it is mostly a protective action. We feel vulnerable and weak. It is easier to be cynical and hard. In that way, however, we separate from the most spiritual and beautiful part of ourselves—and prevent others from seeing it and feeling it when they may desperately need it. The band plays on while the Titanic sinks.
To think that there’s no place for feelings at work is absurd. There are few things more personal than business when you are the owner. Everything you have is involved – your passions, desires, hopes, creativity, resources, relationships, sense of accomplishment, money…work is where we spend most of our time and yet we try to suppress the best of ourselves? It is very stressful and bad for business. If we aren’t congruent across every aspect of our lives we get sick and sometimes die. Really. It’s that important.
A few weeks ago I had a client going through a very rough business situation involving layoffs and a possible business shut-down. I know exactly how that feels and I sympathized. I comforted them by being present. I made it safe for them to grieve with me because I knew that was what they were doing – grieving a painful kind of death. I was honest about their chances. They needed 100% honesty in this time of crisis to do anything less would have been unkind.
I was brought in near the end of an ongoing situation with them. In all their time of stress they hadn’t told anyone outside the family (as it were). This “professional reserve” nearly sunk them. Once I knew what was going on, I brought in a financial expert to help them get back on their feet. Would they have told me about their problem if they didn’t trust me? No. Honesty builds trust. I also got them reinstated which helped, but did not fix all their problems. During their recovery, they will have to bare their financial and operational souls to a lot of people. It will be hard, but it will help them in the long run. I am very hopeful for them.
Unless you are a sociopath, dishonesty affects YOU terribly. Bring your life back into congruence here and you will sleep better at night which means you will work better during the day. This is not woo-woo here. It is human behavior. Peace is the side effect of honesty.
While you may think it is unkind to be honest sometimes, it is a greater kindness to tell someone the truth. Tact helps of course and can be a kindness, too, as long as it doesn’t obscure the honest message being conveyed.
This is terribly important for all of us imperfect human beings. Whether you believe in God or not, I’m confident you have benefitted from forgiveness both that you received and that you gave to another person. No matter how wronged you are or, perhaps how much you have wronged someone else, there is a chance for peace, healing and relief from suffering. To seek to earn forgiveness is important to our very souls when we have wronged someone else. That’s why it is so important in business to try and make it right for a customer. Not because Amazon says so, but because it makes us feel better to fix our mistakes!
What about when someone has wronged us? We desperately need to forgive them – not for them, but for ourselves. Holding on to anger, grief and feelings of betrayal destroys human beings. It corrodes us like battery acid (or Coca-Cola on teeth). As a business person, it is critical that we be able to let go and move on to the next thing whatever that is – a new opportunity, a new platform, a new relationship, whatever. Rage and grief will keep you stuck and churning inside your head instead of building something new and exciting. I know. I’ve lived it. I’ve had these feelings poison my soul and nearly destroy me physically, emotionally and in business. For those of you who believe in prayer, praying earnestly for those who have wronged you works if you are willing to do it for a long, long time. Of course, you probably already know that, but practicing is harder than knowing sometimes.
There is no forgiveness without compassion and kindness. Compassion says “I have hurt people too. I have made mistakes too. I know they are suffering. I know what it feels like to hurt someone else and I don’t like it. I want to help them.” Kindness says, “This person needs another chance. They are human like me. I can forgive and I will.”
Amazon believes in forgiveness. If you read the lengthy contract you signed with Amazon in the beginning, you may notice that Amazon can shut down your account for any reason at any time and that they don’t need to tell you why. You agreed to it and it is a pretty harsh and final thing to read in a contract. I imagine it will stand up quite nicely in court. And yet…Amazon forgives its sellers every day for large transgressions. They don’t have to but they do.
A cynical person might point out that if they kicked everyone off the platform it would hurt them financially. They need their third-party sellers so they have to work with us. This is true, but I have seen them forgive some really heinous behaviors from newbie sellers, for example, that weren’t even a tiny drop in their financial bucket. Maybe they do it because it is good business to forgive! They now have a chastened and eager partner who will be extra diligent, yes. AND they are living their principles of being the most customer-centric company on earth. In this case, we are the customer and we benefit.
Lastly when it comes to forgiveness by Amazon for suspended or banned accounts, it very much matters WHO you get on the other end of that appeal email and HOW you write your appeal. If you are looking for forgiveness and admit your mistakes, you are much more likely to get reinstated. If you ask them to be kind, they are more likely to be kind. How do I know that? I see it every day in my reinstatement practice. Asking for forgiveness is tough because, like honesty, it makes you vulnerable. You are admitting your mistakes and that you are in the wrong. Business people have it drilled into their heads by lawyers to never admit wrongdoing or you might get sued. And yet so much in life and business can be resolved by a heartfelt apology!
To be clear, forgiveness is not condoning, nor is it an act of self-righteousness in which we affirm our moral superiority and pat ourselves on the back for how noble and generous we are. Forgiveness is uplifting. It lets us live in the present moment instead of the burning past. All the energy poured into blame, hatred, prejudice and revenge is now freed up to feed new, positive projects.
Some things are harder to forgive than others. It may take you a long time to release your feelings. Just remember that it is about you and for you and your peace…and keep working it. As a person who has been in analysis since 1997, I can tell you that forgiveness is worth it, that it doesn’t happen overnight, and that it is all about you and your heart, not them.
Sense of Belonging/Community
In business, partnerships and unified groups are important to get a lot of things accomplished from lobbying for new laws, to making your Amazon FBA business work. Business is a chain of goods and services that relies on other businesses to get done. Sounds pretty straightforward and machine-like. There’s a reason business uses so many gears as an icon – the interconnectedness of life, relationships and business are all reflected in that simple image – but a gear is also soul-less, implacable, relentless.
Kindness comes into play when we do more than work with each other. Think about some of those groups on Facebook that you go to again and again. Why are you there? Some will say to get help with their business questions, to learn from other sellers and to get new ideas. I submit that these are all side benefits of the real reason you are there – for a sense of belonging and community. Here are people who get you and your crazy business model. They laugh at your funny pictures of shopping carts full of condoms and who will stand with you and call Kohl’s short-sighted because they won’t let you scan there anymore. They will freely give you great advice and ideas. They cheer you up when you are having a frustrating day and encourage you when you feel down. For some inexplicable reason they are invested in your success – as you are in theirs. Is this good business? You bet your life! It is through community and a sense of belonging that we not only discover things about ourselves, but we also find real friends and strong business partners.
Together we are more than the sum of our parts. By giving to the community, we are enriched. By sharing with others, we also learn things that help us in business and life. Kindness is the difference between warm community and hostile competitors. If I see you as different and I view you with suspicion, or at the best with cold neutrality, it is unlikely that I will feel kindly disposed toward you. If instead I look at you knowing we both belong to the human race, both have a similar nature, different experiences but the same roots and a common destiny (Amazon FBA), then it is probable I will feel openness, solidarity, empathy toward you. In other words…kindness.
There is no trust without kindness and compassion, and business runs on trust. Despite all the contracts that lawyers draw up every year, the reality is that contracts only work because of the goodwill and trust of the people behind them. People don’t honor contracts because they are afraid of being sued (well, hardly ever); they honor contracts because they are already honorable. Over the past 25 years I’ve gone to court several times and even though I won every single time, I learned that most companies who don’t have assets to be seized will simply walk away and not pay – with no consequences. I’ve learned that either you are dealing with someone honorable or you aren’t. If you aren’t, you’re screwed, might as well save your money. Most honorable businesses will never make you go to court because they have compassion for your situation and enough self-honesty to see that they are wrong in the first place or at least share the blame. They may try to settle or set up a payment plan because they believe in paying their debts. It is part of who they are as people and as an organization. I’ve experienced both.
One of my greatest business mentors and friends won my heart and my trust because he was honest about his situation and paid me when he could have weaseled out of it. He has passed away and I miss him so much. I reached out to him for all kinds of business issues and he was an excellent sounding board, and thoughtful guide. Why? What was in it for him to help me? I don’t know exactly but he had my unswerving loyalty and attention every time he was my client. I adored him. How many people can you say that about in your life, let alone your business life?
So, how do you build trust? Through relationship and the courage to risk having your heart broken. You could be betrayed. It is the thread behind every blood oath, promise, contract, pinky swear, marriage vow and handshake deal. But it is just this vulnerability that gives trust its power. It is because we put ourselves on the line that trust is so warm and precious. Trust creates intimacy. But here’s the catch, you have to give it to get it and there’s no certainty to the outcome. You either are willing to take the chance or you aren’t. You have to surrender a little bit of yourself which is really hard for the control freaks among us (business owner = control freak in case you were wondering).
Being able to trust is correlated to long life. Wow! That makes trust super important to us as humans. Then why are we so hard on trusting people in general? Because we are afraid of appearing naïve and of being vulnerable. Most of us believe that highly trusting people are idiots and naïve (at best! Sometimes people think even worse). Recent studies have shown, however, that high-trusters are not naïve, but rather have an intelligence that permits them to distinguish between the trustworthy and the untrustworthy. The low trusters do not trust others because they do not have this capacity, and play it safe by saying no to everyone. Their social life is poorer, their businesses less successful, their relationships more fragile. I’m not talking about healthy skepticism and due diligence here, I’m talking about when an inability to trust is part of a person’s and a company’s character. Then it becomes a hindrance.
Trust and kindness go hand in hand. Kindness is trusting and ready to risk; it brings us closer to others. To trust is to be kind to others. How do you feel, for example, when someone has more faith in you than you have in yourself sometimes? Uplifted! Strong! Brave! What about when they do not have faith in you? Shattered. Angry. Betrayed. Trust is the soul of a successful relationship whether it be your spouse, your friend or your business colleague. To give trust is kindness and joyful when given to the right kind of partner.
Empathy is one of the greatest skills we possess as humans. The ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feel their suffering (or joy!) not only helps when we are comforting or celebrating with a loved one, but also when we are creating new products and solutions to problems, picking out items to sell and tapping into an emotional response among our buyers. Since birth we have been able to resonate with human beings (unless we are sociopaths) and yet sometimes we lose it as we get older and life gets harder. If we begin to see people more as objects – “them” instead of “us” – then we will manipulate and violate them. We become monsters.
While monsters are sometimes celebrated in our society as great business people; that celebration usually is short-lived. Bernie Madoff is a well-known example, but there are thousands of less well-known monsters out there who are almost all eventually caught and forced into ruin, jail or running away. I thought the Freakonomics guys asked the right question when they asked “If drug dealing is so profitable, why are so many drug dealers still living with their Moms?” Apparently for every Miami Vice high roller drug dealer there are thousands of minions that are barely getting by. Many of them would be better off getting a job at Starbucks or Target with a much lower chance of getting shot or going to jail. Most of them aren’t very good business people (gasp!), nor do they work well with people (shock!).
I digress. If we see our customers, business partners and competitors as “them” instead of “us,” then we will stop caring about them and it will show up in our business in the form of complaints and poor metrics. We will lose the partners we need to be successful and we will become obsessed with our competitors to the detriment of our businesses.
While it is very important to be able to see our partners as people, what is miraculous about empathy is its power to heal. Suffering individuals do not need diagnosis, advice, interpretations or manipulations most of the time. They need genuine and total empathy. When at last they feel that someone identifies with their experience, in that moment they are able to let go of their suffering and are healed. I’ve experienced it and witnessed it both personally and professionally. It is life changing.
Empathy sounds awesome! What’s the catch? Our own suffering is the grounds for empathy. Ouch. Pain is, in varying doses, a companion for life. When confronted honestly, pain can bear fruits of great importance. It digs down deep inside and opens us. We grow more mature, discover emotions and resources we were not aware of, and become more sensitive, humble and wise. Pain is a harsh reminder of what is essential and it can connect us to others. Suffering can make us kinder. When we see another’s suffering, we recognize it and want to help them. This helps us in business because we become more connected and we WANT to help each other.
An expression of empathy is one of the kindest things we can do for another human being – and one of the most helpful. An early boss taught me this lesson well. Our clients were usually paying us $5K-$15K a month for our services so an unhappy customer was a BIG deal. We would go in to the conference room with them quivering with rage sometimes. Marianne would sit and listen to them (she’d already told me to shut up and not be defensive). She’d sympathize with their situation, how their boss was breathing down their necks, and she’d give them a genuine apology and pledge to make it better. In her world, they were perfectly justified in being furious and she accepted responsibility. She was a partner with them in making the big boss happy. When they were done telling their story, poof! All the fire went out of the room. Now they were ready to move on to solve the problem or whatever needed to be done. It was like magic. As desperately as my young 20-something-self wanted to explain, protest and defend myself; it was irrelevant. Marianne got us to where we needed to be – working together again. Usually at some point in the meeting she’d get our side told, but it was done casually and not defensively. It was more like “how can we do this better next time?” She was brilliant, inspiring and kind. I learned so much from her.
Conclusion – Pay it Forward
This blog post is not nearly done because there is much more I could talk about in terms of how kindness is crucial to business. Humility, generosity, loyalty, respect, joy and more are affected by kindness and require kindness. If I wasn’t so darn tired, I’d keep writing. Maybe another week. These virtues impact our personal and professional lives. I hope this blog post has encouraged you. If you are feeling discouraged, angry, afraid or sad about your Amazon business, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to 1) be kind to yourself and 2) be kind to others.
Forgive yourself and others for mistakes made in distress. Allow yourself to express your innate compassion and kindness and you will be amazed how quickly things change for you. Reach out to others you trust and let them uplift you. Ask for help and don’t hide your human frailties or strengths – someone else will benefit from them. Share your story and feel the relief that telling it brings. Find someone who is suffering and be present for them. I promise you your life and your business will change.
Kindness is before our eyes. The opportunity to put things right or to help someone presents itself almost every moment, and if we respond accordingly, we affirm the truest feelings and highest values life can give.
Each person is kind in his or her own way. The ways of being kind are infinite. Find your own way. You may not realize it, but being kind is taking a stand. By itself, it might not help: Maybe our kindness will be ineffective. Our donation not enough to feed the world, the neighbor we help stand up after a fall doesn’t change the fact that she will fall again. The blood we give can’t meet the overwhelming need. Never mind. We have affirmed a principle, a way of being. We have affirmed that kindness matters. That doing something is better than nothing.
Zen and most major religions affirm that microcosm is macrocosm. Each person is the whole world. This means that each individual in some subtle and mysterious way embodies all people. If we can bring some relief and well-being to just one person’s life, this is already a victory, a silent, humble response to the suffering and pain of the planet. This is the starting point.
While perhaps selling zit cream or dog costumes is not addressing the pain of the world, the fact that we help bring products to the world is important because they fulfill a need. Business is bigger than sales charts, competition and whose bank account is fatter; it is about the kind of world we want to create. It may seem paradoxical, but the most sensible way to further our own interests, to find our own freedom, and to glimpse our own happiness is often not to pursue our goals directly, but to look after other people’s interests, to help other people be freer from fear and pain, to contribute to their happiness. Ultimately, it is very simple. There is NO choice between being kind to others and being kind to ourselves. It is the same thing.
On international “Pay it Forward Day,” April 30th, I encourage you to consciously make an act of kindness and see if your day isn’t somehow more cheerful, productive or uplifting because of it. The ScannerMonkey team has arranged for free consulting for its members with some of the top Amazon FBA consultants in the world which is pretty damn inspiring. They only ask that the people who get the free consulting find a way to pay it forward to someone else in a way that works for them. I can’t wait to read the heartwarming stories and to see the results in the months to come. Kindness is a big rock in a pond. The ripples go on and on.
Still skeptical about the power of kindness? Consider this true story from my family: When my Grandfather Stine was growing up he lived in a house in rural Michigan with a dirt floor and no plumbing. His parents had little schooling and no religious affiliation. The town mail carrier, Clare Wolfe took an interest in him and invited him to attend a Christian camp where he committed his life to Christ and to a Christian ministry. My grandfather graduated from high school during the depression with no means to pay for college, but Clark Wolfe offered to pay his way if he would work summers to earn what he could. All he asked in return was that my Grandfather help others get an education when he had an opportunity.
My Grandfather got his degree from Asbury in Kentucky. In 1950 he and my Grandmother went to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as missionaries, and immediately began to pay back Clare Wolfe by helping young Africans get an education, some with finishing 8th grade, some with high school, and even the first Rhodesian from the Methodist Church to attend college in South Africa. Later when the best options for Africans for college were in Europe or the United States, Grandfather contacted some wealthy individuals to get their support for students. The first African Methodist Bishop, Abel Muzorewa, who also became the first Prime Minister at the time of independence, was one of these. The first Secretary of Parliament, who later became first Chancellor of the Africa University, was another. (His name is John Kurewa, Asbury class of 64, with my Dad.) And when in the early 1960s the Methodist Church in the United States took on a program to send hundreds of young Africans abroad for college, Dad was the one to head up the program in Rhodesia. A number of these he sent to Asbury. At the time of independence in the mid-60’s, these well-trained people formed the core of leadership not only in the Methodist Church but also in government and in business throughout the country.
Rhodesia was admired throughout Africa because it had the ONLY bloodless colonial independence and transfer of power in Africa. Unintentionally, my Grandfather’s acts of paying it forward transformed the leadership of Rhodesia. The country took a different path than so many other countries because the sons of the chiefs had been educated. They had a perspective not shared by many others on the continent. Some had lived in the UK or the US which shaped their idea of politics and governance.
After retiring in Southern Illinois, my Grandfather continued to encourage young people to attend Asbury. He didn’t talk about what he did, but when he died my Grandmother received lengthy heart-felt letters from all over the world – particularly Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) – from men who were grateful for their educations and who told her how they had themselves paid it forward in their communities. I still cry thinking of these astonishing, surprising and unexpected letters.
My Dad said, “Some people have trouble believing in the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000. But when my family thinks of how God took the gift of small-town mail carrier Clare Wolfe and multiplied it thousands of miles away and decades later, feeding 5,000 seems child’s play as miracles go. We are not asked often to do great things; we are asked to give what we have and let God be the one to use it and multiply it. We cannot know how our actions will affect others or even change the world which is the humbling, amazing and beautiful power of service to our fellow man.”
My Dad’s middle name is Clare which was not only in honor of Clare Wolfe, but also an unspoken obligation to live up to that name – which he has many times over. My Dad continued to give it forward by becoming one of the world’s most renowned linguists and helping translate and distribute the word of God all over the world in different languages. His work for the United Bible Societies would have made Clare Wolfe so happy. To name just one accomplishment, Dad set up the world’s largest printing press in China. It prints Bibles 24/7 for distribution in China at cost. My Grandfather and Dad’s lives of service would not have happened without Clare Wolfe.
Infinite are the ways of being kind.
If you are interested in reading more about the power of kindness, I recommend one of my favorite books: “The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life” by Piero Ferrucci. Talk about a life-changing book. Every time I read it, I find something new to inspire me and nourish my soul. You’ll want to take notes and, hopefully, act.