According to Deb Dana, author of the book Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System using Polyvagal Theory, “We have a drive to survive and a longing to connect”. Sometimes these work in collaboration and we make deep connections, other times our drive to survive stops us from reaching out and opening up to make those connections. We are always scanning our environment ever vigilant and alert to any signs of danger to our survival (those are ‘Triggers’ or warnings) and the opposite of this as so beautifully defined by Dana are ‘Glimmers’ or welcomes – micro-moments of goodness, which are cues to our nervous system that signal a feeling of safety, calm and joy.
When we send out or receive cues of safety, it’s an invitation for connection. An example of a glimmer moment that stands out was when my wife and I were browsing through the various stalls at a pop-up market called the Pilitaxi Festival. We walked past quite a few counters without stopping, till we came to one that had a bunch of really interesting-looking mask-like creations (we discovered later they were musical instruments) called ZenZula.
The person behind the counter stood up with a smile, made eye contact with us, picked up one of these instruments, and started playing. The lovely lilting melody brought a smile to our faces. He stopped for a few seconds, picked up a ZenZula put one in each of our hands, and asked us to try playing. Within seconds our guards were down and we were welcomed in his world. He went on to explain that he used sardine cans, cigar boxes, and salad bowls as the base and there we different kinds of sounds that each produced.
It was a masterclass in salesmanship by Lalith Choyal, the creator of this thumb guitar. What worked was really simple stuff, executed brilliantly. The smile for instance, signals that he is approachable. The music he played to draw us in and a song (messaging was around anybody can play this anywhere). The show and tell was followed by an experiential, putting the instrument in our hands and encouraging us to try it out. The ESG connect, (he claimed) the instrument was made from recycled material to promote sustainability and it needed no power, charging, or maintenance other than keeping it away from water. At the end of a long work day, this glimmer of safety, calm, and joy was a micro-moment of goodness, that got converted into a perfect sales pitch.
He used all forms of communication. We send messages with our eyes, which was his first way of connecting with us. Then the ears, with the music and song. Then the touch and feel of actually playing the ZenZula and the dash of purpose with the sustainability pitch thrown in, that tugged at the heartstrings, sealed the deal.
As a public relations practitioner, there is so much for me to learn from this moment. All the stories we tell on behalf of brands and organisations could be so much more powerful if they remain rooted in goodness. My favourite definition of Public Relations comes alive in this context “PR is doing good and then getting credit for it”. As practitioners, if we focus on being the author of good actions and then building our stories around this goodness, we will break through the clutter and glimmers will emerge that will connect with our audiences.
Going back to the science that informs the idea of ‘Triggers Vs Glimmers’, Dana quotes Stephen Proges who defines Trauma as “a chronic disruption of connectedness”. Each one of us has had to endure different kinds of traumas and as a result of those we have different triggers. These are like warnings that prevent us from connecting with one another. Getting more aware of them and finding ways to work through them or sidestep them is a topic that has got more attention than grabbing onto glimmers or offering glimmers to others in your orbit. Helping our nervous system understand how to find ways to allow us to connect with another is at the heart of the human experience.
How to do this? Dana asks a few questions that point us in the right direction…
- Who is a person in your world that makes you feel welcome and safe to engage?
- What is a simple thing that you can do that predictably gives you a micro-moment of joy?
- Where is a place in your world that makes you feel safe and welcome? (even the thought of being there is enough to give you a glimmer)
- When is the time of day/week that you feel that sense of predictability, calm, and safety?
Once you get a glimpse of your glimmers, you can grab onto them any time you want. Spend some time staying alert to what gives you that feeling of safety, calm, and joy as you go through your day and tune into your glimmers. Once your light has started to shine brighter, you can be the glimmer in somebody’s life. Who will you make feel welcome and safe today? Find someone who needs to connect and invite them into your safe space.
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