When Passion For Business Overshadows Compassion For People



This installment recounts an experience from my days in advertising. I was leading an account where we were tasked to bring new solutions to chronic problems and to “shake-things up”. Our remit was to take a close, unvarnished look at the client’s marketing and communications practices. We took the challenge head-on but, once inside, we realized that the situation we were entering was politically charged, and we identified the formation of two distinct camps. There were those who supported our forward-thinking efforts and motivation to change and those who did not. One group perceived us as heroes and by the opposing group as villains.

My colleague and I had a meeting with one of the key stakeholders who was particularly prickly throughout the process. This client was suspicious of our recommendations, as it would disrupt how the company managed its departments. As far as he was concerned, we were the villains. The purpose of the meeting was to persuade him to agree to our recommendations and support our efforts moving forward.

The meeting took place in the client’s spacious office. My colleague and I were seated on a couch while the client sat in an armchair. Fully cognizant of the fact that we were faced with a resistant opponent, we were armed with data points and rationale to support our recommendations. The meeting started off on a very professional note. After we exchanged pleasantries, the client asked us a pointed question regarding one specific recommendation. As I began to answer, I noticed the client appeared to lose focus while I was speaking. The noticeable attention span deficit was accompanied by a marked change in his posture as he started to slouch in his chair. Watching this, I lost my train of thought but kept talking. The client sat up, interrupted me and asked the same question again. Somewhat daunted,  I started to stumble before my colleague jumped in with a response. As my colleague continued speaking, the client’s arm rolled off the side of the chair and his pad of paper and pen dropped to the floor. I hastened to assist by picking up the fallen articles. Before my colleague could finish, the client asked the same question again, but this time his speech was beginning to slur. Not knowing exactly how to handle this situation, my colleague passed the response back to me. I tried yet a different approach to answer the question that I was not able to finish as the client was clearly struggling to stay focused.

At this point, my colleague and I sensed that we were at an impasse, and that we needed to end the conversation. We politely excused ourselves and left the meeting without achieving our objective. We questioned the stability of this client; whether or not he would be our ally moving forward with our recommendations. As we had never experienced a situation like this before, the walk back to the office was consumed with our hypotheses about whether this client was possibly drinking at lunch, showed up tired, or was just being difficult. Once back in the office we called our day-to-day client to report the results of the meeting. It was then we realized that what we had witnessed might be explained by a medical condition, which was exactly the case. The temporarily disabled client had experienced a diabetic episode. Thankfully, assistance had been quickly provided for the client. We later came to learn that this had happened before.


We were so consumed with “making the sale” and using every strategy to achieve our objective that we lost sight of the fact that the person who was sitting before us was a human being. Never once did we ask if he was feeling alright, or if there was anything we could do to help.  Our ill-advised assessment lead to a very inept response, and our handling of this situation remains an embarrassment to this day. Focusing on business is important, but this drive should never overshadow our need and responsibility to truly care about the well-being of the people making the deals possible.

Are you putting passion for the business ahead of compassion for your people?