The Power of Perception
The primary force in changing or maintaining any given situation is the fundamental understanding of the situation held by those who inhabit it. Changing the strategy, and changing the structures will have some impact but if there is no change in the story these will have considerably less impact. A change in the story drives change in structures and strategies. The key to unlocking change is to be found in a change in the fundamental understanding of the situation. All characters are transformed when the story they inhabit is changed.
Developing a strong narrative is a common communication strategy these days. Most communication strategy focuses on informing, instructing, influencing and inspiring people. Some change occurs through influence, inspiration, instruction, and information, but it is often not the change you are looking for. This is because you are inevitably assuming that the person or situation is stuck and in need of changing thereby reinforcing the situation. This feels counterintuitive but recollect a time when someone was trying to change you and remember the effect it had on you. How did you feel seen? How did you see the situation? How did you see them? How did you respond?
Changing the fundamental understanding in an individual or group is best achieved by listening for and seeing the change you are looking for.
This is a simple and effortless concept but remarkably difficult in practice. What we see and hear appear to be objective facts. It does not seem sensible to see something that isn’t there and so we feel weird trying to do it.
The only authentic way to see something is to see it. How can we see something we don’t see? It is actually remarkably possible.
We see a very small percentage of what is available to see. We tend to see what we expect to see. This is because seeing is a combination of light and interpretation. Hearing is similar. It is a combination of sound and the interpretation of sound. When we hear a sound we lose the hearing of another sound… Right now, through my open window I am listening to a circular saw, a plane, and what might be a hairdryer in another apartment… but not at the same time. When I hear the plane I actually do not hear the saw… even though both are quite loud. When we see something we lose sight of almost everything else.
By focusing our attention on something we tend to see it and hear it.
Even when this is not deliberate, the RAS [Reticular Activating System, which, for example makes us notice cars of the same make to our own] and the power of what I call the NIS [Narrative Immune System, which, for example makes us ridicule anything that challenges our belief] means we tend to see and hear things that confirm our current understanding. Other information or factors are ignored, distorted to fit, or discounted. Most of the time they aren’t even seen. When they do impinge on us and demand attention it causes a surprise. It is this surprise that most obviously reveals our expectation and current belief. The element of surprise is also one of the most powerful tools in a transformative narrative strategy, and it can be deliberately cultivated.
There are several ways to play with this process.
Hold the second meeting.
The second meeting is the one you would hold after the first one has achieved the effect you wanted it to have… So you have the inspired, passionate, creative, loyal, people you want… now what do you use the meeting for? You plan for and hold this second meeting. Often this means that you get the meeting of your dreams, but sometimes people are taken by surprise and may even treat the change as a strange and even suspicious phenomenon. When people show up and appear to be uninspired, you will be genuinely surprised, concerned and curious about this. You would automatically ask if there was something wrong and if there was something that you had done to produce this effect. Being surprised when someone is not inspired and inspiring conveys a profound affirming belief in them… It will probably cause some surprise in them.
Choose to believe that the opposite is true
When we believe something about someone it will inform everything we are and do in relationship to them. This isn’t always easy to acknowledge. We feel we are consistently ourselves and treat everyone the same. It is hard to see how powerful our beliefs are except in the extreme beliefs that lead us to hate or love. This can be so powerful that enraged or infatuated people are often led to exclaim “I am not myself!” People feel manipulated into acting out of character. “Look what you made me do!” But even when our feelings are not that strong we do relate differently to different people in the light of how we see them.
The power of unknowing
When we “know” that someone is cynical, lazy, untrustworthy, uncaring, and/or weak we will never be surprised when they act in accordance with our belief. If one day they appear enthusiastic, energetic, trusted, caring and strong, we get surprised, and curious about what caused the change. So what if we deliberately un-know what we know… and believe the opposite is true: they are enthusiastic, energetic, trusted, caring and strong, [or at least they want to be] we become curious about what has caused cynical, untrustworthy, uncaring, and weak behaviour. This curiosity will reveal very important information that was never sought before, but even more importantly it will transform the relationship between you and the people you had written off.
The power of perception is a kind of magic. It changes everything we see. And of course the greatest change is in the eye of the beholder.