The more I read the more weight I place on the impact and change possible in our lives from understanding and adjusting our own thinking.
There is a major blocker to learning and applying Soft Skills. It’s not intelligence… it’s how you think about yourself.
You may have read articles about ‘your narrative’ ??? Nearly all of us have one… the story line you write about yourself day in and day out…. about your past and about your future… It captures how you define yourself and the person you are. Commonly referred to as the ego, but that can be negative to some of us. It’s a fascinating concept to explore and challenge…
I think building or even having a personal narrative has questionable worth. Many won’t agree with me here but ultimately I think there is a fair amount of our narrative we could safely dispose of. ‘I am successful, earn good money and have always advanced quickly’ really doesn’t serve any useful purpose. If that was part of your narrative you may think that it helps you feel good about yourself… but really… the only time it will come up is when it is threatened in some way. Other parts of your narrative may influence your style in clothes (or general image), hobbies, groups and family role to name a few.
Why do we feel we need one?… I think there are quite a few psychological theories that talk to having a narrative, perhaps indirectly or using other terms. I personally think it exists above the limbic/primal survival definition of me versus others. From when we first move beyond survival mode into developing our sense of self as part of our social/higher thinking. This would be from around age 2 or 3, as we develop and become aware of our abilities and autonomy. As far as I can tell, we develop it as a means to provide ourselves with a sense of purpose, meaning and value.
The problem is that we have let our stories get a little carried away… and they have become self-inflicted cages that can cause us pain. You see once you create one you also need to manage and maintain it. As events happen throughout the day, we end up positioning/explaining them in the context of our narrative. And I strongly believe we lead situations based on our narrative without realising. It seems to me that we tend to justify or re-frame things to match our narrative rather than seeing things for what they really are.
But the real point I wanted to drive to here was the narratives impact our soft skills. That our own definition of who we are, what we should be, what we deserve etc largely impacts our interaction with others.
Think about the person appears to take credit for others work, having to have the last say in a discussion or taking up airtime so their point is heard longest and loudest. If we took a look at the possible narratives that person is operating then I am confident there will always be a direct and clear relationship to the behaviour – possibly a story of high success or higher intelligence. The narrative we operate will drive thinking, behaviour and interaction… which does have an impact on others, good or bad.
Another example. I recall a documentary in which a school class performed a social experiment; they each approached total strangers to ask for information or assistance (I can’t remember exactly). Always different people on the street. But in the experiment each student approached two strangers each; once untidy, slouching and without a smile. The second time upright, happy and smiling. No guesses on the results – people were far more willing to engage with the students presenting themselves as friendly, happy and respectable. These are the same students just adopting a new personal narrative for a situation.
And one last one, a recent personal experience. I was in a motorcycle shop the other day and I forgot the model number for a bike I was trying to ask a question about. Ever so subtly the young salesman developed a ‘oh another newbie who doesn’t know what he’s talking about’ posture and facial expression. He waited while I guessed a few more combinations trying to find what sounded right. And then eventually he corrected me. Now there are lots of reasons for why he may have done that but I think underneath them is the narrative he held about himself. Knowledge and skills around motorcycling provides self-worth, it is important to him as a hobby and a career. I imagine he reads a lot about the industry, the sport and what the manufacturers are doing. Unfortunately, needing to know more to maintain that self-worth came across as arrogance.
I think understanding your narrative is a great tool for broader self-awareness and growth. You may decide not to change anything, but being aware of the connection between your narrative and the outcomes you’re getting each day will arm you with knowledge and power to decide. Personally, removing at least some elements of my narrative have resulted in less stress and conflict.