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Narrative, or the stories people tell themselves
Mental models, delivery and fiction
Last time I talked about PR and how we need to put ourselves and our projects “out there” in order to break through the noise of content and have a chance at succeeding. However, shouting out is not enough per se. It’s the way it’s received that makes the difference.
Ever had a major misunderstanding? A “what just happened” situation?
I had many. And not just because I’m autistic (although, you should check out this article on 10 Unfortunate and Unfair Reasons Autistic People Have Been Fired, it’s - guess what - all about facts vs. perception).
Culture, upbringing, neurotype, preferences, what we got bullied about in school, they all shape the narrative we filter the world through. Even more, they shape the narrative of how we view ourselves.
Let’s dive in!
Did you know
A guy in the 70s came up with a mental model that explains exactly how we distort information in our head. Since then, people have used it in Ted talks, articles and all sorts of management courses.
Because it’s brilliant! No idea why they didn’t teach it to me in school (especially since my high school in Italy had philosophy in the curriculum, but I guess nothing past XI century Germany counts).
You probably heard of it, it’s the Ladder of Inference, and it absolutely changed my life since I saw it at a conflict resolution workshop.
See, an autistic like me spends their life trying to understand ‘people’, why they do all those illogical things they do, and why they say things that make zero sense. The Ladder was the manual I was missing!
The gist is that humans add all these extra layers of context to what they observe, starting by not actually observing clearly, then piling on meaning, making assumptions, drawing conclusions and making decisions based on personal beliefs over those conclusions. They take a fact and add a whole lot of narrative.
We all do, on some level. For example, this is what happens in my head when a kid cuts me off at the tube station:
Fact: a kid ran past me and cut me off at the tube gates
The data I pick up: a teenager with a backpack and untied shoes flailed past me
Meaning: He’s late for school and he’s careless
Assumptions: He probably slept past his alarm because he was up late watching porn or something
Conclusions: He’s a ****
Belief: Teenagers are ****
Action: I shout “You *****”
I can guarantee that every unsuccessful interaction you’ve had with colleagues, managers, siblings and parents was because of speaking actions from the top of the ladder.
That’s life! It makes so much sense. Even those of us who consider themselves sort of ‘enlightened’ go through the same organic process, when instead we could, and should do, is get down from the ladder, bring it back to what we observe and accept that everything else is pure fiction until we investigate.
On delivering your narrative
You know what’s funny? The acting training I was bragging about in the video, I almost didn’t do it, because of a narrative I had in my head.
So often we can narrative-ourselves out of things (classic “I shouldn’t apply for that job because I’m not 110% qualified”), or we let other people, who are good at delivering, convince us to change our own narrative.
There’s so much more to be said about narratives, but if I had to pick one thing to say to my 12-year-old self is: don’t take any conflict or rejection at face value. Investigate the narratives. Humans are weird 🤡
Brene Brown’s hilarious story of crossing wires with her husband while going for a swim
If you don’t know who Brene Brown is, you need to take a sick day right now and go learn the world. I recommend starting with her famous Ted talk on the power of vulnerability and proceeding with her book Dare to Lead (ideally in audiobook form, since she reads it herself and her Texan accent adds to it).
What I’m up to
Last night I sat down with some awesome women in Product to do an AMA for The WEI - Women with Epic Ideas, which is a fantastic career progression platform for women in creative industries. It builds a custom learning plan on topics like leadership styles, negotiation skills or getting your ideas across, and gives you access to coaching from leaders in your field as well as free events.
Their monthly subscription is already super affordable, but Ale Lariu, founder, is awesome and gave me the code WEI30 for you to use for a 30% discount on top of it!