There’s a way that’s as old as the hills I told him: weave your criticism into your storytelling. Sometimes it is easier to gain empathy when the main bestricken character in the story is yourself.
You know, when I started in your position, I knew even less than you do now. Oh my God, the humiliation! That will get the listener’s sap flowing. And more than that, he has gained your trust, his brain has signalled that he is in the “It’s all right” zone.
To explain this scientifically you will have to talk about a neurochemical called oxytocin that is released in your brain when you become sympathetic or when you have warmed up to the person.
This is a major plus point in fund-raising and is one of the reasons why storytelling works better than just urging the person to do the work.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, far better would it be to use words to paint a favourable picture in the head of the person you are talking to.
At the school I went to we used to sing every Monday morning, “Let us now with thankfulness, praise the founders of our school...”
And then it went on into the efforts and sacrifices and the devotion of those who started it all going, including those who came from across the ocean.
We listened and sang that again the following Monday. I was then from the sticks where we had no such tradition, so I soon became engrossed into the story and soon the cloisters and the rooms began to take new forms and the echoes began to reverberate into a more distant past.
What is the use of tradition? This is how it can be of use.
First the pride of belonging, and then the importance of carrying on the work, and then — with hope — you will soon be cloaked in the desired excellence.
Tradition is nothing more than storytelling that seeps into your psyche. Or, if you want to ground yourself in something that’s easier to grasp, it gets the juices going in your brain, and chemicals in your brain shape your thought.
Empathy is what we are looking for here, and empathy is that all important state that makes us connect and be less inclined to throw the punch or give the headbutt. In a school in America (I’ve forgotten which) that had an intake of children who were more academically challenged than most, they started the entry procedure with a pep talk followed by a video of past students who came in bad but finally made good.
This was the message throughout: that you have it within yourself the capacity to change provided you yourself take charge of how you want to be shaped.
Results showed that the fresh intake did live up to expectations of success. The story worked.
Another factor that came into play could well be the in group mode.
People in a group situation develop characteristics, consciously or unconsciously, that are deemed to be common to the group. They can be saliently made aware of this or they take it on themselves to make out what these qualities are.
This formation of group identity is found even in situations of remote, non physical contact, such as in emailing groups. And group loyalty becomes the glue that binds them to the “brand”.
Storytelling is of course a great tool in instilling corporate cohesion. A sense of loyalty to the tradition binds as strongly in a school as in a shoemaking shop.
It leads towards excellence if that is what tradition urges, or it could lead to disaster if the tradition is not one that produces positive thoughts.
This flow of oxytocin sheds light on how storybooks shape children's minds. More significantly, it explains why bibliotherapy works.
Children who are isolated, lonely and desperate for company can find comfort in stories that have characters similar to themselves.
The way those characters solve their problems or work their way out of a situation becomes instructive.
They find their way out of the maze within the book together with the characters that have gained their empathy. These are comforting moments when the oxytocin signals them to enter doors and also to open doors within themselves — the brightness from the outside shining brightly into areas within.
When camaraderie becomes a thought and then the child is no longer isolated. A problem shared is a problem solved, an old pithy saying, but one that’s given the child reassuring insight.
But in another way, a story is the comfortable route to something that’s prickly when handled without the cover of a diverting thought.
Why? Because it is only through thought that we can convince, not by barging in through broken doors and defences that are set alight.
Yes of course you can conquer and subjugate, but rebellion may just be waiting for the moment when you are off guard.
You know Yusof, when I joined this company and was trying to do the work you are now doing I was useless. And then one day, someone told me, why don’t you do this and that?
I don’t want you to fall into the same trap.
So, where is Yusof now?
Is he thinking evil thoughts about this over critical boss or is he listening attentively to how his boss, who was once worse than he is now, was taken into the light?
Wan A Hulaimi The NST Columnist 30 AUGUST 2015 @ 12:00 PM