I’ve long been a believer in the extraordinary power of stories. Stories can educate, inspire and connect in a way that information and data sometimes struggle to do. Some of the most fulfilling work we do at Sway Partners is helping professionals expand their use of stories in order to share their knowledge. It’s remarkable to watch an audience thoroughly engaged and learning when narratives weave together knowledge, data and insight with a clear call to action.
Lately though I’ve been thinking about the darker side of stories – the stories we tell ourselves. Let me explain by way of….you guessed it….a few stories.
Story #1 – when stories keep you stuck
Once upon a time, I had a friend named John (real name withheld). John had graduated from University in the early 90’s and had a difficult time securing his first job. His story was as follows: “all the jobs are going to women and minorities”. So firmly entrenched was John in his perspective that he moved to another country rather than continuing his job-hunt.
The moral of this story: change your story and you will change your options.
In my coaching practice, I often spend time with clients understanding their current perspective on a situation and working with them to consider different ones. The stories we tell ourselves can keep us from taking action and getting the things we want. If we learn to recognize that our story may be just a perspective and not the truth, possibilities emerge, roadblocks are cleared and goals have a greater chance of being met.
Story #2 – when stories harm relationships
Many years ago at a company not far away, I witnessed a simple disagreement turn into an all out war. Two colleagues got into an argument over resources, both believing that the other was trying to “build an empire”. From a distance it wasn’t too difficult to see that each had come to this conclusion with no attempt to understand the other’s perspective. Sadly, I don’t believe the relationship was ever repaired.
The moral of this story: Don’t assume; ask!
When we tell ourselves stories about another’s motivations we lose the opportunity to really understand and find a resolution that safeguards the relationship. It’s valuable to remember that everyone has a story…and learning that story should be your goal.
The next time you find yourself in a disagreement that is at risk of exploding into a firestorm, try this - STOP, DROP and ROLL. Stop trying to “win” the argument, Drop your assumptions (stories), and Roll into questions and dialogue that allow for the exchange of perspectives. Here’s an easy starter to try: “I’d like to understand your perspective on this situation”. And then listen. I mean really listen, not with your mind on your response, but with intent to truly learn. Unless you enjoy the scorched earth approach…then by all means, hold on to your stories.
Stories can propel us forward or hold us back. Like that big glass of merlot at the end of a long day, recognizing when you are using stories for good or harm is the key!