Here at the 7 Triggers we have a special affection for Maya Angelou, who died on Wednesday at age 86 in North Carolina. One of her most famous quotes provides an essential insight for the importance of the emotional connection in business and in life:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Although it may seem at first glance that the quote distinguishes feelings from words and actions, one concludes that Angelou was in fact suggesting a strong correlation, even a caution, about the power of words and actions to evoke an emotional response. And it is the emotional response that remains when words and actions are forgotten.
In addition to her role as one of our era’s most inspirational figures, Angelou was a genuine symbol of human achievement in a most original and authentic way. Born Marguerite Johnson, she grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and Stamps, Arkansas. It was her brother who first called her Maya, and the name stuck. Angelou left a troubled childhood and the segregated world of Arkansas and began a career as a singer and dancer. She toured Europe in the 1950s with a production of Porgy and Bess, studied dance with Martha Graham, and performed with Alvin Ailey on television. She wrote more than 30 books, the most famous of which was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiographical coming-of-age story about strength of character, love of literature, and overcoming great adversity. Angelou was a Grammy winner for three spoken-word albums. She was a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University, and was honored with many literary accolades throughout her remarkable career.
It may be easily argued that Angelou’s achievements were based almost entirely on a unique ability to connect emotionally with people, her audiences, and perhaps never more so than in her writing and speaking. She had that unique gift – the gift of the greatest artists and communicators – to use their medium as a source of true kinship, as a way to bridge the illusory gap between us. Emotional connection is about using modes and formats in such a way that the means of connection disappear and all that’s left is connection itself.
Maya Angelou will continue to create those connections through her work for generations.