Let’s Agree to Agree

So why do we choose to agree with people—accept them and their story? A question I spend a lot of time thinking about in my work with global clients. Last week I came across a fascinating online piece in Politico Magazine written by Matthew MacWilliams (http://tinyurl.com/jrafytg) that said the “single statistically significant variable” that predicts whether a voter supports Donald Trump is authoritarianism.  The American electorate, according to the writer’s national poll of 1,800 registered voters, appreciates and respects “authoritarian inclinations.”  One look at a Trump speech and it is easy to see that his style is one of communicating authoritatively—in an environment that is, as MacWilliams correctly notes, “ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge.”

As a Canadian, I am not here to judge American politics. My interest lies solely in how leaders conduct themselves. How they communicate their policies, strategies and ideas—regardless of what party they belong to. So why do people seem to feel comfortable with authority figures like Trump? In short: because Trump’s value system matches theirs. Not the first time you have heard that common sense answer. Let me put it in strategic storytelling terms. If the hero’s needs and values match your needs and values—what you see as important—then you will choose to accept the hero.  Taking it further, you will find that all important emotional connection to the hero. And when that happens, the relationship, the trust, grows. Fast. In the exponential growth of the digital arena that kind of connection gets likes and follows and re-Tweets and friends (friends vote for their hero-friends forever: HFF—the BFF of 21st Century politics. Sorry, that one was too easy).

I often use Harry Potter as an example. Harry Potter’s wizardry skills may not match your needs and values (wizards can be intimidating, un-relatable, inhuman); what really binds you (most of you anyway) to Harry is not the inhuman Harry, but rather, the very human Harry: the boy that is on a quest to find his parents. In pursuing this quest, Harry clearly demonstrates that he loves his family. If he didn’t, he obviously wouldn’t risk his life for them. That full commitment is demonstrated with passion and relentless determination, made even more challenging by the need to overcome a constant stream of dangerous (okay, and entertaining) obstacles. We are right there with Harry as he shows us—with action (show don’t tell)—that he will do whatever it takes to find (indeed, defend) his parents, his family. That is the kind of hero the world can relate to. Those family values match ours. (And yes, no coincidence that every politician can be heard shouting family values at election time.)

How does this all translate to you and your business story? As I tell my clients (authoritatively?), your best story is always going to involve problem-solving. Decisions and choices that lead to some type of (potential) solutions.  In that is plenty of action and intention that reflects core human values.  I work across so many different countries and cultures, but I can tell you without hesitation that every successful story happens because the speaker (the company) is genuinely connected to the same values as their audiences’. We want the same things. And believe me (here I am trying to be authoritative again!), you don’t have to look very far to find where your values match those of even the most vastly different culture to yours. Who doesn’t want to solve problems and be authoritative with their choices and decision-making? Who doesn’t want to experience the energy boost that exciting discoveries (solutions) bring? Our needs are basic and far more common than we think.

Trump is no Harry Potter…but they both know what they want and they fight hard to get it—and people are showing their unwavering support and appreciation for that. It should come as no surprise then that we put our trust in those kinds of characters, real or imagined.

Be authoritative with your story.  It does, after-all, belong to you…and you will find an audience of like-minded thinkers when you get out there and share it.

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