When working on communication, narrative, and strategy with clients I find myself constantly confronting and re-examining some damaging assumptions which, I’ve come to understand, prevent us from achieving common goals and having good conversations.
- The first is the illusion of control and agency.
Not because you make a plan and you deliver accordingly, you are going to achieve your intended goals. Obvious, isn't’ it?
There is neither a perfect template for an investor pitch nor a scientifically proven programme that will help you achieve your desired outcome.
We fall for this fallacy constantly when we tell ourselves “I can only get that if I do this,” and every time we spend far too much time planning our steps instead of curiously observing the environment in which we are operating.
- The second is the illusion that the faster you get to your objective the better.
When we focus too much on the objective, we lose perspective. If your team has different and conflicting visions of what needs to be done in a project which are creating tension, you might want to resolve the conflict as soon as possible.
Yes, that’s important; but in some cases, before you can do even that you may need to restore trust.
Instead of prioritising a quick outcome (“Let’s see how we can agree on a way of working together”) you might need to answer the question of what comes first when people have conflicting visions for a project. It might not be the fastest way to achieve your goal, but it is the most effective.
- And the most important and difficult assumption is the illusion that I can do this on my own.
The thought that as individuals we are powerful and autonomous selves operating in isolation from one another is one of the most damaging illusions that Western societies have produced. I can’t recount how many times people have come to me asking how they can persuade people to do something they don’t want to do.
I always ask ask them “Tell me first what game you’re in? Are you in a power dynamic, a gender or status game? What is the conversation about, and what’s your role in this conversation? What is he really resisting and opposing?“
Nothing operates in a vacuum.
You can’t communicate effectively, especially in a challenging situation, if you don’t look inward to find out what sort of conversation you’re actually having with the other person.
Believe it or not, we don’t have the power to make people do something they don’t want to do or don’t believe in, unless by using violence. And most importantly, we need each other to achieve our goals. Technically, you have achieved nothing on your own without assistance or intervention from another human being.
You need others, and your goals need others.
Now you know this, what can we do when we want to progress our common work?
We can focus on observing how narratives, people and conversations are shaping the future of what you/we want to achieve.
How can we work on our clarity and perspective so that we can make wiser, better, more informed decisions that take others into account and address the common work that Foucault was referring to?
How can we build commonality and collaboration so the bonds we create with each other make decisions and behaviour less volatile and more predictable, reliable and aligned?
Everything is interconnected and nothing happens in isolation. Once we know this, the only thing we can do is to get better and better at looking at the systems and narratives within which we all live.
n one of Foucault’s latest published interviews one of his students asks him “Do the structuralists have a way to go from the interpretation and unlocking of events and ideas to the remaking, the reconstruction of the world?”
Please stay with me, because you’re going to love the answer Foucault gave to such an intellectual question.
“I can suggest one thing. Search for what is good and strong and beautiful in your society and elaborate from there. Push outward. Always create from that you already have. Then you will know what you do.”
Decisions and the clarity to move forward come from the internal dialogue between us and the world, from unexpected turns and the ability to adapt and observe the environments in which we live and thrive.
Ultimately your work is our work too, and if you look at it from that perspective communicating, creating a strategy and finding the narrative that will help you get there becomes clearer, easier and less lonely.