Friday, April 2, 2010

Awakening People's Story Capacity

Look around, there’s tons of talk about stories and storytelling. Most people are convinced of the important role story plays in effective communication but…

How can we help people experience their natural story skills that go beyond telling a good yarn?

What does it feeling like when people are engaged in story-listening?

How can all this touchy-feely story stuff be tied to concrete behaviors that generate measurable performance results?
Spend 45 minutes with me in an interactive session answering these questions and more. I’ll share a tool I developed from research and an active learning activity.

Here is a link to the recording of my March complimentary webinar on the topic:


During the video I shared the case study of Len as an example of active learning story-based communication skills exercise - The Magic Three (link below to a facilitator guide for the exercise - quoted here is just the case study):

I was facilitating a workshop on personal effectiveness in business. Len was a nononsense technology project manager for a nuclear research company. Len possessed exceptional communication skills. He was clear, precise, succinct, and very articulate. However, despite his technical prowess as a communicator, Len observed
that he often failed to connect with people on an emotional level.

I gave Len two assignments. The first assignment was to take a complex newspaper article on a controversial topic and in thirty seconds or less provide a summary of the article’s information and make a recommendation. Len’s second assignment was the Magic Three.

Len performed the newspaper activity with the prowess of a polished politician. He was absolutely brilliant. I wanted him to serve as an example of how to deliver an effective executive sound bite. There are many times when we have thirty seconds or less to make an elevator pitch.

After appropriate accolades, I asked Len to share his three stories with us. In a matter of a few seconds, Len’s body language began to transform in front of our very eyes. His erect, formal stature was replaced with a more relaxed posture. As he began to share his stories with the group, he moved to the edge of a table to sit down. Here is a recapitulation of his stories as I remember them:

I’ve always been a fairly private person so joining groups was never high on my list of things to do. About seven years ago I decided to get more involved with my local Catholic church group. I was surprised at how quickly I began forming a core group of friends who became a central part of my life.Weekends were filled with fishing trips, barbecues with our wives and families, and general fraternizing with my new cohorts. It had been a long time since I had experienced this kind of camaraderie and I was relishing every minute of it. As a group,we kept growing closer and closer. Even my family was caught off guard by the quality and depth of relationships I developed with a bunch of total strangers.This continued for several years.

After a horrible car accident, I found myself in the hospital recovering from a life-threatening back surgery and long days of excruciating pain blunted by the constant dripping of numbing morphine. Everything was a haze. I was in a complete fog of pain, depression, and despair. During these horrific weeks, there were two pins of light that got me through these dark times,my family and my friends. Family you kind of expect to be there for you, but I was amazed at the dedication and energy my friends gave to me when I needed them the most.To this day I believe my friends were a special gift granted to me to ensure I pulled through a very trying experience.

A couple of years later my buddies wanted to go on a weekend retreat with the church. I resisted, but after a lot of cajoling I agreed to go.We had a fantastic time, and the retreat was filled with lots of soulful opportunities to recharge our batteries and put the challenges of life into perspective. My friends made the retreat a special experience and I returned home with fresh vigor and zest. A day after my return,my father died unexpectedly. I believe my friends and the retreat were granted to me as a form of preparation for my father’s death. I was able to be a source of comfort and strength for my family. I had more emotional energy to give to them.To this day, I am eternally grateful for friendship and all of the richness it has given me in life.
Unfortunately, my retelling is pale in comparison to Len’s original account. It’s missing all of the other subtle forms of communication that accompanied it, such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice. When Len finished, there was silence in the room. People needed a moment to exit their imaginations and reenter the workshop’s frame of reference. Ken confessed he had never told these stories to anyone else before; and prior to the workshop he never would have dreamed of sharing them in a work environment. He reflected on the powerful connection of friendship he discovered in the three stories. Then Ken made an amazing leap of insight. He concluded that he needed to be selectively more vulnerable with people at work in order to improve his personal effectiveness. Ken committed to spending more time cultivating relationships in his organization. Stories, he discovered,are one of the best tools for building effective, meaningful relationships.


1. Facilitator Guide to Magic Three (begins on page 21 of the file)

2. Journal Article Describing the Story-based communication skills

3. eBook of Self-Development Exercises

4. Assessment for Measuring Story-based Communication Skills

I'd love to hear from folks. If you are thinking about how these skills and principles relate to your organization and people's performance call me (415-948-8087) - let's roll up our sleeves together to understand the dynamics in play and how to transform the "natural power of story" (that's a wonderful expression used by my friends Shawn Callahaun and Mark Shenk at Anecdote to describe their strategic narrative work).

1 comment:

  1. 學問好比腸胃裡的食物,裝下多少並不重要,吸收多少才重要。......................................................


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