Telling stories

I am a visual person so its quite natural for me to use stories with clients when I coach.  There are a number of reasons why I believe the use of story telling is a good communications tool but I wanted to focus on 2:

Bring a scenario to life

Helping people understand an issue or behaviour that involves them can be a challenge but by using stories and examples you can easily explain the situation and help them understand.  Let me give you an example;  I use the concepts of transactional analysis when I work with clients.  This is all about appropriate behaviours at work, especially as a manager.  You can behave like an ADULT, a PARENT or a CHILD.  I explain the difference between the three, most people kind of get it.  However, when I use the story below, the client usually gains a better understanding and why being the ADULT is the right approach in 90% of situations.  So here’s my story:

Imagine you are driving a car and stopped at a traffic light in the middle lane.  The lane to your left is left turn only but the boy racer in that lane is revving his engine and you suspect he is going to under take you.

  • The PARENT in you races to over take him then slows down to 30mph to ‘teach him a lesson’
  • The CHILD in you wants to race him and beat him
  • The ADULT thinks ‘silly idiot’ and ‘lets him undertake you and zoom off whilst you maintain a safe speed

Which of those scenarios is the best?  This story example helps people understand the concepts much more easily then just explaining them.

The use of ‘3rd partying’

If you want to remove the emotion from a difficult conversation or piece of feedback then using 3rd party examples and language will do that for you.  One way is to tell a story (that isn’t directly about them) to help them see the situation from your perspective and to avoid  them becoming defensive.  So rather than saying “you are always late and your colleagues are fed up of picking up your slack” you might say “imagine someone who is always late for work, how do you think that person’s colleagues would feel towards that person?”  The second ‘story’ approach has completely removed the confrontation that would ultimately lead to a defensive response.

Stories are powerful tools in a work context and a useful management approach, so are they something that you frequently use?  Love to hear your experiences?

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