Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Writing and Life—People

For those of us who are writers, writing and life are intertwined. What we write can affect how we perceive the world around us and the world around us affects what we write. I was struck this week, as I dealt with some issues in real life, that it can be an advantage being a writer.

If we are writers, we are used to putting ourselves in our characters minds and hearts. We are used to looking at issues and situations from viewpoints other than our own. This is a useful skill in real life as well. If we can look at difficult people we must deal with and put ourselves in their shoes, we are likely to be able to find solutions to problems. We are likely to be able to speak to them in ways they will hear and we are likely to actually hear clearly what they are saying to us.

If we must negotiate, the optimal strategy is ALWAYS one that is win-win. If we can use our skills as writers to figure out the other person’s bottom line and find a way to meet it and meet our own at the same time, we are not only more likely to get an agreement, it is more likely to be an agreement that all parties will abide by.

If we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the way we put ourselves in the minds and hearts of our characters, we are less likely to find ourselves trapped in anger and hurt and other negative emotions that hurt us. We are more likely to be able to hold onto whatever was good about the relationship—or perhaps even evoke good from someone not usually known for kindness or consideration or other behaviors we value.

If someone has hurt us in the past and we can use our skills as writers to understand why, we can realize how we might wish to change our words and actions or realize that these things would have happened no matter who we were or what we did. And we are less likely to carry the hurt so deeply through the rest of our lives. We are more likely to be able to let it go.

If we want to persuade someone to see an issue from our point of view, then our best option is to use our skills to see first what the other person’s hopes and fears are and how they see the issue. If we treat the other person’s beliefs and feelings with respect, they are more likely to listen to ours with respect. If we can address their fears and hopes in what we say and still support our own position by doing so, that’s when we are most likely to be able to convince someone that we might be right.

None of this means we must give up who we are or adopt the other person’s positions or beliefs as our own just because we understand how they think or feel! We can still listen to and value our own instincts and knowledge. And sometimes that is hard for us to do if we find it too easy to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I know this was a mistake I made during my marriage—to assume that he was more likely to be right about things than I was, especially because he was always surer that he was right.

So if you are a writer (and even if you’re not), look around at difficult situations and people and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. See how you can use that to create win-win solutions—and that includes a winning solution for YOU as well as for the other person.