Is it better to be likeable or sympathetic?
‘third day on the road, Cambridge to Braintree, Cambridge then Poole: five hours driving among meetings. Fortunately it’s a sunny day without much traffic, and my clients all need help managing good news instead of fixing bad situations.
A good time for exploration, lots of time for reflection.
Success as an entrepreneur or as an expat depends on establishing connections with varied and dissimilar people. We adopt a relaxed smile and firm handshake, become good listeners and self-depreciating storytellers, project a positive attitude and open heart. These are all ‘likeable’ traits that engage people as friends and colleagues.
But a close association between people requires more. They also need to identify with one another and care about the other’s story. They must be mutually sympathetic.
Distant fields are painted with vivid blocks of primary colour: green shoots of wheat and barley, yellow rapeseed blooming before harvest for canola oil, brown furrows for sugar beets and potatoes. Farmstands, offering eggs and jams, punctuate the dusty lanes connecting distant barns.
With blockages already developing ahead on the M25, its off into the fields to get some pictures of the blooms and the landscapes in afternoon light.
I reflect that a sympathetic person is one that you identify with perhaps one who has suffered an impersonal or undeserved setback. Screenwriters, who must draw audiences into a story through character, go further: sympathetic characters have plans, dreams, needs and hopes. They have moral character, intelligence, and someone who loves them.
And they have flaws. A video essay illustrates the importance of establishing vulnerability as a key character trait, even for unlikable people.
Unlike the warm reds and oranges of the tulip fields in Holland, these carpets are lemon, a cool yellow tending towards green and blue. The trees are only beginning to bud, the higher branches still bare in contrast to the lush ground cover.
“Great storytelling, inevitably, is about compelling human plights that are accessible to readers. But at the same time, the plights must be set forth with sufficient subjunctivity to allow them to be rewritten by the read to play in their imagination in as detailed and rich a way as psychologically possible.”
As entrepreneurs and expats, we tell stories to make connections. We tell how how we always tried and sometimes failed to adopt language and custom. We negotiate a tough but fair deal for services and supplies. We shuffle scarce funds to see us through the hard times without layoffs. In the end, these narratives draw people in as friends and investors.
And it requires more than simply being likeable; we must also be sympathetic.