Being negative is an easy trap to fall into.
When trying to prove a point or change someone’s mind, the natural tendency is to use a story that has a negative point-of-view to warn against an outcome and perhaps shock the listener a little.
The problem with a negative story is that it is only a warning and it is only attention-grabbing. Using a stand-alone cautionary tale tells your audience how not to behave, but fails to fill the void with a better idea.
A powerful anecdote I recently heard could effectively be used in many settings. For instance, if you were coaching a young professional about how to handle questions regarding their level of expertise.
Sometimes the wrong explanation can hamper your ability to move ahead in your career. Anna visited a doctor to discuss an elective procedure. She asked the surgeon the very obvious question, “How many times have you done this operation?” The doctor’s response was, “Five.” With that answer, Anna resolved that she would not be his sixth.
Certainly every doctor – or any type of professional – needs to gain experience and practice, but there has to be a better answer to that question because no one wants to be the guinea pig.
This story is instructive, but only to a point. If the coaching ends here, many questions are left unanswered. Therefore, to truly change a mind, you also need to exemplify the desired behavior.
A second story that demonstrates the positive perspective is the perfect complement to the negative story.
A helpful secondary story could be:
A young surgeon was asked in clinic by a patient “How many times have you done this operation?”
She told the patient who was in need of a major surgery: “Never. I haven’t done this exact procedure before because every patient is different. I approach each surgery knowing that no two patients have the exact same anatomy, pre-existing conditions, or medical history. That being said, I’ve spent years training at some of the best medical institutions with world-renowned teachers and this has prepared me to take on any case, including yours.”
The patient responded favorably and was comfortable signing the consent forms because the answer was honest and it instilled confidence. That’s what you want to achieve when responding to a question about your capabilities so that lack of experience never hinder your career growth.
For a young person preparing for a job interview, you can see how a revelation might occur after hearing these two stories. That’s because taken together, the negative example followed by a positive one is both a diagnosis of a problem and a prescription for success.
An example that serves as a warning certainly will catch the attention of your audience, but alone it probably isn’t enough to achieve your preferred result. Consider using the negative and positive story technique the next time you are leading change because influence isn’t authoritarian, nor is it restrictive. True influence is education with a dose of inspiration.
About Amanda Marko
Amanda Marko, President and Chief Connection Officer of Connected Strategy Group, is Anecdote’s partner in the United States. Storytelling complements her work to help leaders increase their influence through deeper connections that enhance the effectiveness of business strategy, change management, employee engagement, and corporate culture initiatives. Connect with Amanda on: