August 6, 2009

We seek to strike a responsive chord in people, not get a message across.

I just finished reading Tony Schwartz's seminal 1973 book, The Responsive Chord. Thirty-six years ago, he brilliantly articulated what I am only now thinking and teaching. His Resonance Principle in Communication is similar to my Heart, Head & Hand (TM) framework. His focus on behavioral effect underscores my approach to what I call Story Sharing (TM). His works remains highly relevant, especially given the rise of social media and other new forms of communication.

Schwartz writes [emphasis is his]:

"The critical task is to design our package of stimuli so that it resonates with information already stored within an individual and thereby induces the desired learning or behavioral effect. Resonance takes place when the stimuli put into our communication evoke meaning in a listener or viewer. That which we put into the communication has no meaning in itself. The meaning of our communication is what a listener or viewer gets out of his experience with the communicator's stimuli. The listener's or viewer's brain is an indispensable component of the total communication system. His life experiences, as well as his expectations of the stimuli he is receiving, interact with the communicator's output in determining the meaning of the communication.

"A listener or viewer brings far more information to the communication event than a communicator can put into his program, commercial, or message. The communicator's problem, then, is not to get stimuli across, or even to package his stimuli so they can be understood and absorbed. Rather, he must deeply understand the kinds of information and experiences stored in his audience, the patterning of this information, and the interactive resonance process whereby stimuli evoke this stored information....

"To achieve a behavioral effect, whether persuading someone to buy a product or teaching a person about history, one designs stimuli that will resonate with the elements in a communication environment to produce that effect. The traditional communication process is thus reversed. A 'message' is not the starting point for communicating. It is the final product arrived at after considering the effect we hope to achieve and the communication environment where people will experience our stimuli.

"In developing a set of useful principles for communicating, it is necessary to abandon most of the traditional rules we were taught. A resonance approach does not begin by asking, 'What do I want to say?' We seek to strike a responsive chord in people, not get a message across. This involves, first, examining how stored experiences are patterned in our brain, and how previous experiences condition us to perceive new stimuli. Second, we must understand the characteristics of the new communication environment, and how people use media in their lives. Only at the final stage do we consider the content of a message, and this will be determined by the effect we want to achieve and the environment where our content will take on meaning."

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