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THE POWER OF STORY TELLING

When I was new to the consulting business I worked in a small firm.  We were a tight group with different skills and points of view and styles.  But we appreciated each other and did a lot of good work together.

Back in those years I had a habit of being rather long winded.  I assumed everyone wanted to hear my whole thought process and how I arrived at my conclusions.  But it could take me 5 minutes to actually get to my conclusion!  I suppose I was getting bits of feedback about this all along but it didn’t sink in.  And so my rambling persisted…until two events occurred.

After sending a carefully crafted email with multiple paragraphs to a highly valued CEO client I received his response almost instantly.  “Just so we’re clear.  If your emails are longer than 3 brief bullet points, I don’t read them.”  Ouch!  I got the message that time.

Not long after this I was discussing some client work with my colleague.  Two minutes into my soliloquy he stuck his hand out, palm up, and then shoved his index finger from his other hand into the middle of the open palm.  “Point, Nicki!  What’s your point?!”  I just starred at him, stunned.  “How many times do I have to tell you to cut to the chase?  Stop going on and on.  You absolutely lose me…and others.”  Fortunately I took this in as intended…to help me be better at my job.

From those moments forward I flipped a switch.  My emails now err on the side of being too brief and I no longer bury the punch line in conversations.  Now I just have to deal with feedback that I’m too direct and blunt!

I share this story not to tell you something profound about myself but to help you appreciate the power of story telling in our organizations.  So let me ask you some questions.

Did you learn something from my story that you can apply to yourself?  If I was your manager would you feel that you could relate more to me than before?  If I had written 5 paragraphs about the (generic) value of giving and receiving feedback would you have gotten the point as clearly?  If I was the leader of your organization and told this story in the context of “creating a safe environment to grow and learn” would you believe I was committed to the culture change?  If I was your leader and just delivered the talking points slides about a new initiative would you trust my resolve as much?

My point is that telling stories makes leaders human and business decisions more reality based.

If I kicked off our team offsite with a compelling story about a moment of truth that was difficult and influenced my attitude would it set a comfortable tone for the meeting?  Would you have a better sense of me as a human being?

If I started the all staff meeting with a story about how skeptical I was about Strategy ABC when I first heard it and how I dismissed it and then I had this experience when I actually used some of Strategy ABC and had surprisingly positive results…would you be more inclined to hear what else I had to say about Strategy ABC?  Would you think that initial skepticism was okay and then you would probably get more positive?

So invite others to tell stories.  Learn how to tell a good story yourself.  It is an underused tool when it comes to more effective leadership and a more engaging culture.

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