Want to influence and persuade more people to your cause? Consider utilizing the power of storytelling. In Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, author Annette Simmons says that to tell a story, is to unleash the power of humanity.
We like to think that we live in a firmly objective, rational world, where decision making based on formulas or frameworks can dictate the best path at any given moment. The problem with this thinking, according to Simmons, is that people aren’t very objective. “Because human behavior is so subjective, objective thinking can actually distort your ability to analyze, understand, or predict human behavior. The collective past, present, and imagined future times and places represent a subjective point of view that frames how a person feels about you, your idea, or your organization.”
Stories act as a subjective thinking tool, helping people create meaning around the “facts.” People act based upon the stories they tell themselves. If we want to influence people, we need to understand their stories.
The implications for this are powerful: organizations can reestablish trust and connection when internal problems seem insurmountable; marketers can better connect with customers; and those invisible, icky human problems that data can’t measure — they get revealed.
The Best Story Wins
As a marketer and someone fascinated with how organizations function, I want to understand how stories influence buying behavior and group cohesion.
What’s a story? According to Simmons, a story is a “reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listeners’ imaginations to experience it as real. And since everyone’s interpretation might be different, stories “invite listeners to participate in the ‘what does this mean’? question. Stories give people freedom to come to their own conclusions.”
Using this in the context of organizational development, stories can be used to fix low morale. Most companies resort to root-cause analysis, but Simmons says this is the wrong approach. She says that root-cause analysis can lead to the blame game, and a better way to sort through the mess is to ask your staff to tell stories such as “Why I choose to work here.” The company that can produce the best story around their why is the one who wins.
You Don’t Need More Data, You Need More Humanity
There is definitely a trend in organizations to want to measure everything. Simmons takes the old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” and says toss it out the window.
The tension between “left” and “right” brain thinking in Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins feels very real, and Simmons isn’t afraid to attack what she considers to be an overreliance on rational analysis in the workplace. Simmons says, “Unfortunately, the exclusive use of ‘rational thinking tools’ is the root cause of feeling disconnection and overload. We are buried under the burden of collecting objective data instead of doing a good job. Data–at best–only provide an illusion of ‘good management’ for insatiable measurement junkies.”
Stories have the power to reestablish things like trust, passion, and inspiration in an organization — not your data graph.
Storytelling reestablishes accountablitly for human qualities that numbers distory or miss completely.
6 Ways to Tell The Best Story And Win
How do you start telling stories? Here are the six different ways of telling a story as told in Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins:
- Who I am– What qualities earn you the right to influence this person? Tell of a time, place, or event that provides evidence that you have these qualities. Reveal yourself.
- Why I am Here– When someone assumes you are there to sell an idea that will cost them money, time, or resources, it immediately discredits your “facts” as biased. Tell this person what you get out of it besides money. Or if it is just about the money for you, own it.
- Teaching– Certain lessons are best learned from experience–some of them over and over again during a lifetime. Patience, for instance. You can tell someone to “be patient,” but its’ rarely helpful. Better to tell a story that creates a shared experience of patience along with the rewards of patience. Your story will change behavior much better than advice.
- Vision– A worthy, exciting future story reframes present difficulties as “worth it.” Without a vision, these meaningless frustrations suck the life energy out of a group. With an engaging vision, however, huge obstacles shrink to small irritants on the path to a worthwhile goal.
- Value In Action – Values are subjective. To one person, integrity means doing what his boss tells him to do. To someone else, integrity means saying no even if it costs her job. If you want to encourage a value or teach a value you have to provide a ‘demonstration’ by telling a story that illustrates in action what that value means, behaviorally.
- I Know What You Are Thinking – People like to stay safe. Many times they have already made up their mind, with specific objections to the ideas you bring. They don’t come out and say, “I’ve already decided this is hogwash,” but they might be thinking it. It is a trust-building surprise for you to share their secret suspicions in a story that first validates and then dispels these objections without sounding defensive.
All of these types of story aim to do the same thing: to make the impersonal personal.
What Story Will You Tell?
The power of storytelling taps into who we are as people. Why not use it to lead? Organizations can harness the power of story to create connection and trust; something a yearly employee engagement survey could never accurately deliver.
Marketers can use the power of story to drive narratives that inspire people to hit that buy button. Fundraisers can tell stories about how their organization changes lives, and how, by donating, you too can change lives.
Stories and myth are as old as human existence. By telling stories, we can intentionally enter into this existence and create a shared experience.
Storytelling is the future. What stories will you tell?
Book rating: 10/10
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