To tug a heartstring

To tug a heartstring

You don’t often hear the words ‘President Trump’ and ‘Heartstring’ in the same sentence, do you? Well, you’re going to hear them now.

Clients often tell us they can’t create stories. We often prove them wrong! But is it really necessary to create stories? If so, why? What are the benefits of doing so? What do you lose if you don’t conjure up images in your mind that make life interesting? Read on, the process is not that difficult. It requires Perception, Perseverance and Practice.

We know a lot more today about how people react to each other than we used to. For example, the vibes you send out profoundly change how others behave with you. You may think you already know that. If you are in a foul temper people who observe the fact either leave you alone as much as possible or challenge you and start a fight. It is very rare for someone to fail to react to the mood they perceive the other person to be in.

These are blatant and obvious signals. The more subtle ones may go unnoticed – that doesn’t mean you are not reacting to them. Your reaction may be helpful or upsetting. Worse, it may be conscious or unconscious. For example, it is common for us to seek to blame other people for something we suspect is our fault. Even when we see someone ‘out of sorts’ our first reaction can often be that it is ‘not our fault’. We think it is unfair that they should be taking it out on us. We blame ourselves for their ill humour.

Why do we have these sorts of reactions? They are, after all, illogical and potentially damaging to any relationship. If we can avoid them we stand a better chance of convincing the other person to do what we want. Our first reaction is defensive in case we are being attacked. Self-defence is a preserving characteristic identified by Darwin as a major attribute of species survival. We don’t want to lose our naturally defensive nature. But we must also encourage good relationships with others if we are to live in a collaborative society.

To do that we have quickly to reassure ourselves that we are (relatively) safe, and start work on communicating. Unfortunately we have been wrongly taught that communication is a matter of transmission. As any media owner knows you can transmit until you are blue in the face. If nobody is receiving, understanding and acting upon what they have received the transmissions are in vain. So much of our communication falls into this category.

This is because we think only about sending messages. You have heard the expression “I told you so”. A more pointless and damaging remark it is difficult to imagine. What it says is “you are a foolish and incompetent person who doesn’t listen to good advice from someone (me) who knows better”. Telling people they are foolish has never been a certain bet to improving understanding. Your being right is unlikely to endear them to you.

Switch your view to that of receiving messages. You may hate being ordered or criticised or pleaded with. Sarcasm or irony may turn you off completely. Gushing has a bad effect on my willingness to receive messages even when I know it is well meant. It seems vaguely insulting that you have to gush me to get something I am reasonably willing to give. Above all idiotic ‘rules’ – and there are plenty of them – make me determined to disobey.

What is it that drives us? Fairness, kindness, treating others as human beings, honouring someone, all these motivate me. Which is not to say they will motivate you, of course. To tug a heartstring is a very real skill. Which is why you have to learn to create stories. Only when you can imagine how others might feel do you begin to communicate effectively with them. Perception is the start of that process. Creation is its climax.

President Trump will need all his (and other people’s) skills to make something useful of a meeting with North Korea Kim. He will be briefed until he is deaf but his real skill will be in inventing stories that can possibly surround the central character in this important negotiation. If he thinks only of what he wants he will not succeed. If he thinks about what is happening to the people on the other side of the table he will have a chance of winning.

The winning will not be one side’s victory. It will be both sides victories.

It always has to be.