“Be tough minded but tenderhearted.”
― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
I recently went to the eye doctor. It’d been about twelve years since I had my LASIK surgery, and I hadn’t been since we moved to Texas. I wanted to find a local optometrist with whom I could establish a relationship and make sure that everything was still functioning the way it should.
When I had my surgery, my eyesight improved dramatically. I had 20/12 vision. I knew that my vision wasn’t quite as good as it had been after the surgery, but I felt like it was still quite acceptable. As it turns out, I was right on both counts; I still have 20/17 vision. I also got a test for macular degeneration, and passed that with flying colors. I was nowhere near the readings which might be a cause for concern.
So, with all of that information in hand, I expected to be given the clean bill of health, a thank you very much, and instructions to come back at some future interval.
Instead, the optometrist told me that I needed to get a prescription for eyeglasses and tried to sell me on supplements to prevent macular degeneration.
“Wait,” I said. “My vision is better than normal and I have no problems seeing things, right?”
“Yes,” he said.
“So, why are you telling me I need to buy prescription eyeglasses?”
To which he answered with hemming and hawing and verbal tap dancing about how I didn’t really need the glasses, but it might be a good idea to have them.
We had a similar conversation about the supplements. I already take an omega oil stack daily. He had said that omegas were the most important supplement for prevention of macular degeneration. Yet, he was trying to get me to buy more supplements.
When quizzed about this, he again entered into verbal tap dance mode.
My hackles were up. I came in to get an eye exam, and upon being told that my eyes were in great shape, expected to pay for the exam and leave. Instead, I got bombarded by what I perceived as a sales pitch trying to get me to buy a bunch of crap I didn’t need.
I totally understand paying for an eye exam. This person had a medical degree and a dozen years of experience in checking out people’s orbs. He had to have an office and the machine which enables him to say “1 or 2?” “3 or 4?” and make the eye chart clearer or more opaque. I’m willing to pay for that expertise, specialization, and machinery that I have neither the time, desire, or capital to go acquire on my own. It’s the purpose of money, after all – a medium to exchange my value for his value.
What got me up in arms was that he tried to, as far as I was concerned, make our exchange into an even more economic exchange by convincing me to buy stuff I either definitely didn’t need or probably didn’t need.
It soured the relationship. I’ll never go back.
It turns out that money and compassion don’t really mix, which is why I thought that this optometrist’s demeanor was such a turnoff. Research from Brandeis’s Andrew Molinsky, along with researchers from Harvard and Wharton business schools demonstrates how intermingling economic and money thoughts with situations where compassion is required destroys the compassion and makes the experience worse for the people who were expecting compassion.
There are numerous situations where this can happen. When bosses have to announce layoffs, when doctors have to give bad news, or when trying to show bad stories to elicit donations to charity, the invocation of money is a surefire way to remove compassion from the equation. The research hypothesizes that the people who have to deliver the bad news are trying to remove themselves emotionally from the situation to prevent themselves from overloaded by negative feelings and pain from the people to whom they have to deliver the bad news.
The plan backfires. People who receive bad news in an uncompassionate and unemotional way are more likely to sue for malpractice or sue for wrongful termination than those who receive the news from compassionate sources.
The reaction is understandable. Think of people who receive news about layoffs from an uncompassionate source. The immediate reaction is going to be that the boss and the company are thinking about profits over people, and, therefore, that the termination was unjust. Money gets in the way. If the boss, on the other hand, is compassionate, then the people who are laid off understand that he or she feels pain and feels their pain. The blow, while harsh, is softened.
If I’m your financial planner, there’s a pretty decent probability that I’m going to have to deliver some bad news, whether it’s telling you that you need to rein in your lifestyle now or that you’re going to have to delay retirement or won’t get to have the lifestyle you envision in retirement, the sad truth is that most people are faced with constraints and tradeoffs and will have to make some difficult choices about what’s truly important to them.