I consider stories to be small gifts that individuals exchange with each other (one-to-one or one-to-many). Gifts, you might wonder, how? Because when you tell me a story about yourself, I feel like you’ve opened a small window and shared a piece of yourself. You may not think so, but that is a gift.
Every time I do a workshop and ask people to pair off to share a story, the discussion when we come back to the full group always evolves into the privilege people felt knowing more about the other. I love this part of it because I hope it breaks down the fear or the hurdles the teller will have in talking about themselves. You are giving the listener a gift.
More than that, story is an equalizer. In their book How to Tell a Story, Meg Bowles and Catherine Burns say that “story is the glue that connects storyteller and listeners.”
I want to explore the equalizer idea more deeply today and to ask you to consider this so that you don’t use stories as a way to come across as “better than…” It never works.
Let’s say you must deliver a message in the face of something difficult, imperfect, or less than ideal. I like to use a message or story to break the ice that shines a light on the imperfection.
Embarrassed because you launched your important video conference, and your upper lip is scabbed over and disgusting? Speaking from experience, I started the introductions with the question, “What the heck, you might be wondering, is wrong with my face?” I explained it: No, I don’t have herpes. This is a pre-cancer skin treatment. And a few people burst out laughing. And I moved on. (no need to linger or belabor!) I didn’t have this thing over my head worrying about what people were thinking. The members of my audience thought, “oh yeah, she’s human.”
That’s all fun and games, but what if the situation is more serious and significant in nature?
At times like this, a story is a great way to break the ice and unite people, erasing any perceived hierarchy. When the leader takes to the proverbial stage from a position of authority, people will find it difficult to relate to and believe you. We will need your authority to help us navigate the issue, so I’m not suggesting you do away with your authority, I’m suggesting you address any shortcomings or weaknesses in your message at the start. Metaphorically, hang out with them on the lounge chairs, and then get on your feet and get to work.
If you find yourself uncomfortable about a message you need to deliver, what’s a story or even a brief message you can share at the outset that puts a name on that discomfort (without putting you in a position of weakness) and allows everyone to move forward together?
You might ask yourself the source of the discomfort:
- Why are you the wrong person to be delivering this message?
- What is wrong with what you have to say?
- What is wrong with the environment? (Noli started barking during my introduction in a webcast I ran the other day. I went on to introduce her: “…and that is Noli. She insists on making her presence known, and how does UPS know exactly when to arrive?”
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of pottery repair. One mends shards of broken pottery together with gold making the repaired piece more beautiful than the previously perfect one.
Don’t feel the need to show up perfectly. In fact, highlight those imperfections with a bit of gorgeous gold.
Take care out there.
Some ways I may be able to help you and your team:
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