Stories make things happen. We are designed to be storytellers. Every time we talk about what we did at the weekend, every time we have a little gossip about our family, friends and colleagues, we are sharing stories. When we share stories, we are influencing others – sometimes those stories change our thinking, sometimes they help us to understand and accept new ideas.
Jean Gamester from Semaphora regularly runs workshops that help us build on our natural story-telling ability. Here Jean shares four simple techniques that can help stories deliver results for you and your business:
- The values story
We all have values and many companies have stated values that they look to their people to live by. So, how can you influence people to live values in a particular way? Well you can ask them to talk about a time when they experienced someone living one of those stated values. You can ask them to speak in groups, in pairs or to write it down on their own. I did this once with a group, asking them about the value of “service”. Lots of people in the same department came up with the same person as their example – it was a really powerful moment when they realised they had a perfect role model. It made it much easier for them to connect with that way of operating.
- The “what went well” story
Psychologist Martin Seligman developed a technique called “What Went Well” – and it’s surprisingly effective. At the end of every team meeting, I ask participants to describe something that went well over the past few days, the role they played in making that thing go well, and the impact on others. People feel valued and they get an emotional boost from focussing on something they have achieved, something of value to others. When I added this technique into my team meetings, the atmosphere around my projects changed, and so did our level of success.
- The “look back in pride” story
Lots of organisations and teams are forced to go through change. It is common, and perfectly natural, for people to question and challenge change. Before they are ready to move forward, it really helps to look back in pride. I ask people in workshops to tell stories to celebrate what was successful about their past. This helps us to recognise what makes us strong, what gives us a solid foundation upon which to build the changes to come.
- The premortem story
It is our nature to do post-mortems. To look back in time and look at the things that happened and how they led to us being here. Those stories can certainly be useful, but I love premortem stories even more.
When we do a premortem, we project ourselves to the future and believe that our goal, whatever it is, has come true already. Then we look back from that future time and tell the story of how we got to that future. We share the successes, the failures and the path that got us there. And having imagined it, it sets the scene for us to take that route with courage, because in our minds, we have already achieved it. This is even more powerful if it is done with groups of people who are working together on a goal, because then they get a shared experience of that imagined journey.
Simple stories, super results
It still amazes me sometimes that simple stories like these can deliver results. They get into our minds and they influence how we think, how we feel. American writer Maya Angelou had it so right “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. These stories we tell, they change how we feel. And when we change how we feel, we can make new things happen.