At a story workshop yesterday at Lubbock Christian University, the group shared some phenomenal insights that really got to the heart of how a story listening, finding, and telling practice can be transformational at work. Thought I would share while they’re fresh in my mind!
Story Finding is Hard!!
Truer words were never spoken. I hear this palpably when I hear people bemoan: “I have no stories.” We all have many, many, MANY stories to tell (and you’ll probably collect a few more over the course of the day today), but a few things happen:
- they evanesce
- they never get noticed in the first place
- they get deemed not worth telling
There are some practices which can help address the first two, which I’ll share towards the end of the post, but addressing the mindset behind #3 is where I want to start.
You have to make a decision….
….that your stories are worth telling. And at the beginning this may have to be something that you fake until you make. But once you’ve experienced the powerful ways in which stories help show (instead of tell) in career contexts, you won’t look back. And this might be an insight you gain as a story listener, from hearing someone talk about their work, and you just have that inspired feeling of “I want to be a part of that!!” I know that my improv training really helped me in this respect – so many of the games and techniques and philosophies of improv build on the idea that if you treat people like poets, artists, and geniuses, they will become them (for more on this read Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art) –give this same gift to yourself. Decide that your stories are powerful and compelling and then make them become so.
The kinds of stories that do the most work may not be the stories you are initially looking for
And I simply cannot underscore this one enough!!!
When it comes to the stories that do the most work in career contexts, they are often small – seemingly uneventful – moments, easily overlooked. I have often heard Shawn Callahan, story practitioner and founder of Anecdote Internationalgive the example of a manager who decided to make it a point to shut their laptop when someone came into their office. This seemingly tiny action speaks volumes about prioritizing people over tasks, and a management style that puts employees first. It begat the same practice from those who experienced it – true leadership by example.
Participants in yesterday’s workshop pointed out how they felt more connection to those tellers who shared stories of mistakes, challenges, failures – an insight instantiated time and again by those who do applied storytelling work. It’s the reason why prospective employers ask to hear a story about a problem in an interview. Those kinds of experiences (and especially what you made of them) speak volumes about who you are. They teach. They are “flight simulators” as Chip and Dan Heath call them. We learn vicariously from you and about you.
So, some story finding practices
As promised, I’ll end this piece by sharing some story finding practices and techniques.
Story Listen –
participants in yesterday’s workshop noticed that when they listened to the stories when they were working in small groups, it called to mind stories from their own experience.
Write to think –
details often come back to me when I take the time to write about an experience. And sometimes the details come long after I’m done writing, it’ll be hours later on while on a walk or taking a shower. When you’re in this practice, ideas just start showing up. Elizabth Gilbert talks about this in Big Magic.
Make a point to notice –
Matthew Dicks advocates a daily practice of writing down your most story-worthy moments in his book Storyworthy. He describes a transformation that this regular practice will beget – that of becoming more aware of your reactions in the moment, When you see your life through a story lens, you start to better be able to see the impact you have on others, and you make more decisions in response to obstacles that embody your values and ideals. Ultimately this practice engenders a greater sense of the importance of paying attention to small everyday moments.
So it all comes back to deciding to pay attention to those small moments.
I’ll end with a story.
It was from a storytelling workshop that I gave many (many) years ago – a man told about one of his first jobs as a teenager when he worked for a florist. He was not the most reliable employee partly because of his unreliable transportation, and the story focuses on the day when his employer just gave up on him. He got fired in the middle of his route, after his car broke down for the umpteenth time, but something compelled him to finish delivering those flowers. Despite being fired, he walked through his last deliveries, one of whom burst into tears when she opened the door and saw him. Turns out, she was having a very hard time, and those flowers made all the difference that day. His story – despite featuring a termination of employment – shows a commitment to the WHY of the work. The awareness of the big picture on display in this story – I would argue – makes it one of those stories that would make an employer feel that sense of FOMO “I’ve got to hire this person for my team”!!
What stories do you have to share?
Who can you share them with today?