No One Cares What You Do But Your Story Could Make Them Cry

No One Cares What You Do But Your Story Could Make Them Cry
Image credit: Shutterstock

I can hear you objecting already. But it’s true: No one gives a crap what you do.

They do care -- passionately -- about something you might not have stopped to consider. Lucky for you and your business relationships, you can learn to use it to your advantage.

Before I explain, meet Bill. Bill hated going to the movies unless he was alone. Watching anything other than an action movie was very uncomfortable for him. When he saw a drama, he struggled to swallow the emotional golf ball that magically had appeared in his throat. No matter how hard he squeezed his eyes, they spontaneously brimmed over and streaked down his face. To Bill, each teardrop was a betrayal. He couldn't understand how a man who prided himself on keeping his emotions tucked away suddenly had become such a big softy.

The answer lies not in the stars, but in brain chemistry.

Mirror neurons trigger empathy.  

A mirror neuron is a brain cell that fires both when a person acts and when a person observes the same action performed by another. To be clear, this isn't really a single, random brain cell. These are large clusters of brain cells. The neurons “mirror” the behavior of the other person's brain cells. It's as if the observer's brain perceives he or she is the one committing the act. In this sense, witnessing an event can affect us just as powerfully as living it.

The mirror system's function in humans is the subject of much speculation. However, there's some consensus that mirror neurons might be important for understanding others' actions and learning new skills through imitation. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and other researchers suggest that mirror neuron systems could help us understand the intentions of others, too. Iacoboni has posited that mirror neurons are the physiological basis for our capacity to experience emotion -- empathy in particular.

Recognizing a brain architecture that supports emotion means our feelings are more powerful than we've believed in the past. If we learn how to authentically trigger these mirror neurons and stir empathy in others, we can bond people to us in very real ways. 

Related: A Little Empathy Makes Good Leaders Great

Apply this science with employees and customers.

Short of screening a different tearjerker for your team every week, how can you engage them in such a direct relationship? It’s easier than you think. Think of a time you heard what I call a "full-monty'' story -- the kind that contains raw, naked emotions. It grabbed you and wouldn't let go. You found yourself thinking about it long afterward or perhaps you shared it with others right away.

If all the elements are present, it creates in the listener or reader a neurological response. Our adrenal systems release hormones, including the specific neuropolypeptide chain that triggers empathy. When we see ourselves reflected in the story, something extraordinary happens. The characters begin to resonate with us on an emotional level. 

Related: How Storytelling Helps Business Connect With Customers and Drive Growth

Even though we might not want to admit it, we feel a sense of intuitive understanding that we've dealt with a similar difficult task or decision. Maybe we're still facing that challenge, or we're afraid we'll have to confront it in the future. The external story triggers an internal pressure that reveals we must learn how to develop our own sense of deep, personal resolve. 

Both your brain and your body have powerful responses to a well-delivered story. As you listen to the tense moments, your heart rate and breathing speed up, stress hormones are released, and your focus becomes intense. All this is possible through the work of mysterious mirror neurons, functioning within the brain’s brilliant system.

Craft your own stories.

It's easy to see why a full monty story is such a fabulous catalyst for bonding with others. As leaders and entrepreneurs, we must learn to become master storytellers. Since humanity's earliest beginnings, the art of storytelling has brought us together and created fiercely loyal tribes.

Stories connect us. Stories bond us. Stories make us care.

Related: A Bit of Empathy Might Be Your Best Marketing Strategy

Which brings us back to the title of this article: “No one gives a crap what you do.” It's absolutely true. But it's equally true that people care passionately about how you make them feel. 

In the words of Maya Angelou, "People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Think about your story. What does it say? More importantly, how does it make people feel?