Show. Don’t Tell.
I’m being pulled to remember this nugget I received once from a writing mentor.
And of course, it’s also now connected to the Rush song, which…okay. Welcome to my head. Give me enough time and everything will eventually come back to a Rush song.
It is a really important piece for me to tap into when I’m working with a mentoring or support client. I can tell them six ways from Saturday how awesome, talented, worthy, and whatever other adjectives I can produce. They’ll appreciate it, because let’s face it, it is really cool to hear people say wonderful things about us. Certainly, it’s better than the alternative, right?
Now if I really want to hammer it home, I have to SHOW them. I have to use examples of their story and the actions and choices they made and package these to them as PROOF that they are all of these things that they want to believe about themselves.
Literally using one’s own words to validate them. Shining light on what might not necessarily be on their own radar for whatever reason.
As much as I’d love for them to see and embrace all of that and own it…it’s not, has never been, and will never be up to me. All I can do is provide the seeds and hope that they plant. It’s up to them if they choose to accept it or not. It’s their choice to embrace it, and if they choose not to, I must accept that.
It kills my insides to say that, and it fuels me when people have that “holy smokes” moment and see their worth for themselves. But I cannot make them. It may feel like anything else, but if I were to force that on them it’s no different than forcing a religion, a career, a political belief, a relationship, etc.
I want you to see your worth and I’ll leave a binder of evidence in front of you, but I can’t make you open it if you choose not to.
It’s like that through life to. I can feel really passionate about something and that it’s as natural and obvious as the need to breathe. I can feel flustered and frustrated that others don’t see it the same way. I may never fully understand how someone else sees it differently.
Let’s choose an example that’s fairly light but if you know me makes a lot of sense. For me, if you think anyone other than Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, I have a really tough time taking your football opinions seriously (I kid. Maybe.) What I see is that he owns every record that matters, has played in and won more Super Bowls than anyone, is still just as effective at an age that’s honestly ridiculous to fathom, and I can go on.
And yet, I come across people that think I’m wrong and it’s someone else. So how do I process this? For me, it’s like trying to tell me that the sky is magenta, and it drives me crazy.
My dark side wants to laugh at them and make them feel stupid. It’s an option, of course. But how exactly would that play out? Are they going to be like, “oh man, you got me. I now see the error of my ways. I am, in fact and idiot and bow to your football superiority. Hail Brady!”
I probably have a better chance of hitting Powerball while being struck by lightning twice and breaking into Fort Knox undetected and stealing a truckful of gold, all on a busy Wednesday afternoon. More likely I’m going to be given explicit directions on where I can stick my opinion along with wishing me extreme agony as I go through the anguish of sticking said opinion in that specific orifice.
Most I can do is state my case and leave it be. Allow them the option to explore it or not. Listen to their case and respect the fact that they have the right to be heard. Something I’ve experienced often in life is that the best way to get anyone to listen to you is to listen to them with respect. Ask questions, offer possibilities, but allow them to be heard.
It’s not easy, especially when it’s real life and some of what comes out is really hurtful, offensive, and triggers all of those sensors. But in the muck of it all is an opportunity to plant a seed, maybe just from listening and allowing them to be heard.
I’ve had those experiences before where I’ve been talking to someone whose takes on the world really were offensive to me. I’ve responded with listening, and I’ve responded with outrage. My experience is that when I’ve listened and asked from curiosity, and from that place explored possibilities, people have been in turn willing to entertain what I may have to say as well, and while I can’t know for sure, it’s possible some people have shifted their stances on things on their own after doing some processing on their own. I can guarantee you that I’ve never had that in any heated confrontation. There’s doubling down, walls stay up, seeds never plant.
It’s not about “being a nice guy” or even about finding neutrality or any of that crap. It’s knowing that I can never force anyone to think anything. Can people use authority, manipulation, or fear to change what they say? Of course, but that’s just compliance-doing what is needed to get out of the situation. But know as soon as the situation removes itself nothing actually changes. People can only change truly when they decide that they are ready and willing. Period.
You can leave them the information they need to do so if they are willing to hear it. And if you want to make a compelling case, you have to show them rather than tell them. Words are just words, people aren’t moved necessarily by facts, statistics, historical records, or the like. They need to be convinced on a deeper level. You have to paint a picture that goes past logic and offer them the opportunity to observe it also through their emotions and feelings. They need to be able to fully immerse themselves into what they are experiencing. Tell them a story that they can connect to, where they can see themselves in a role that they might have thought was different from them, but upon further learning may not necessarily be the case. Present the opportunity for that picture to feel more like a mirror. Show them an opportunity to relate. Show them a different possibility. Show them something they didn’t expect to experience. Just show them.
Accept that once you show them, the rest is up to them. They may snap back to their original mindset and reject it. It’s very possible there is no change. However, it is possible that the seeds were planted anyway, and it may take time for them to really take hold. Maybe years later they see something that triggers that seed to grow. They may have no idea how it got planted. Doesn’t matter. Point is, if you show them instead of whack them over the head, there’s a chance. It’s up to them, but there’s a chance. Showing is about planting the seeds.
Show. Don’t Tell.
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