We humans are social beings; we share mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously and immediately. We leak emotions to each other. We anticipate and mirror each other’s movements when we’re in sympathy or agreement with one another—when we’re on the same side. And we can mirror each other’s brain activity when we’re engaged in storytelling and listening – both halves of the communication conundrum.
This view of the human state is directly contrary to the way most people think about communications. The old model has a sender, a message, a receiver, feedback and noise. It’s far too mechanistic and simple to describe adequately what’s really going on. It leaves out the communal nature of communications.
We want to achieve this state of human communion; it’s a mistake to think that most humans prefer the solitary life that so much of modern life imposes on us. We are most comfortable when we’re connected, sharing strong emotions and stories, and led by a strong, charismatic leader who is keeping us safe and together.
Of course, that can have a dark side. When the leader is unprincipled or lacks integrity, bad things can happen. But that’s hardly news. A quick review of any period of human history will demonstrate that sad truth.
If you want to lead groups of people to achieve – on the positive side of the equation – more than any individual can achieve alone, this is how you do it. You develop a sense of how you inhabit space and modify that to fulfill the role you want to inhabit. You focus and control your emotions for key conversations, meetings, negotiations, and presentations. You harness the power of your unconscious mind to read other people reliably and quickly. You develop the leadership power of your voice, and you strengthen the nonverbal leadership signals you send out in important moments and situations. And you tap into the power of your unconscious mind to create a positive sense of what’s possible for you, tuning yourself up to be ready to lead.
All of that work prepares you to put your vision across to people in powerful, persuasive ways. Then, finally, you learn how to be a storyteller who taps into the deep stories of human history and mythology to bring your message into being.
You can control the human interaction if you’re intentional about your communications in this way. You think about what you want to say. You think about the emotions you want to project. And you bridge the undeniable differences among humans by the clarity of your story and the depth and focus of your emotions. That’s what holds your listener. If you show up half-present, conflicted, nervous, distracted, or with something else on your mind, you won’t hold the attention of your listener.
But if you know what you’re doing, you can take charge of your listener’s brain and get it to match yours. That’s how the magic of persuasion works. Our brains commune. We jump the human divide. We share the same emotions and the same message.
And there’s a final irony. If you, as the leader, are not willing to listen to your listeners, you will eventually drive them away. Communication can’t just flow in one direction. It is always two way.