Change the Narrative

soccer1During a college soccer game I recently attended as a sport neuropschologist working for team X, I watched a player from team X kick the ball directly to an opposing player. I quickly scanned the entire field and both coaches/benches. There were multiple interpretations of that play. For the player who made the errand kick, his narrative appeared to be “oh crap. What did I just do?” For his teammates, it could have been anything from “no big deal” to “what an idiot!” to “Can’t believe he just did that.” For the X teammates on the bench, it ranged from “Common, get it back!” to “Coach needs to take him out.” For the X coaches, it could have been “Are you kidding me?” to “We practice those passes every day!” The X home team fans had a sudden gasp of sounds while opposing fans cheered! For the opposing player who got the pass, it was likely “Oh man! This is awesome!” For the opposing teammates, it was a sudden infusion of positive energy and for the opposing coaches I could hear “Let’s go!” chants as they starting running down the sidelines. So what’s the point here? One play by one player caused a vast array of interpretations and narratives. That play is permanently etched in history. However, the narratives of that play will live for much longer, consciously and subconsciously, more so on team X.

This begs the question. What if the narrative of that play was the same for everyone on Team X and it was “Let’s all get the ball back!”  What if the narrative of that errand play was not a reactionary negative but in fact, more positive than the opposing team’s? Could this consistent positive interpretation, and that of so many negative plays in a game, be helpful to team X? Of course it would! Whose job is it to recognize and set that positive narrative?  Starts with the Head Coach of X and then everyone on team X. Is this something to insert into practice and train for? Yes!
The next day I watch the film of the game with the entire team and had them plot a graph of “high” and “low” moments in the game. They then shared this with each other. The surprise was that other than just a few similar plays, most of the highs and lows were different. The team learned that multiple and inconsistent narratives were harmful to the team and hard to recover from often inflicting more damage long after the play.
The same is true for the workplace. Each day is filled with calls or meetings (events) and they either go well or not. Each item on the calendar has a positive or negative interpretation whose narrative will impact the following events on the calendar. It’s impossible to change what has already happened and not necessary when you can simply change the narrative of the event. Every experience is an agnostic event simply being judged and labeled by your own biases. Change the narrative and you change the negative power of any experience. Good parents do this for their kids all the time as they realize that children have limited perspectives on their narratives. The first break-up of your teenager can seem like a life-ending event to them only because it is their narrative. Adults are no different just because we do not look like children. We narrate based on our limited perspectives. Business leaders and coaches should consider all the narratives of what is happening on their watch and find the one that best converts every experience into a learning one, an empathetic one, and one that will bring out the best in all.
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