Story Powered – Communicating strategy with story part 2

Posted by  Mark Schenk —April 16, 2015
Filed in Business storytelling

Today’s post is part two of a transcript from my recent interview on the Voice America Business Channel show ‘Story Powered’ hosted by Lianne Picot. The topic of the program was communicating strategy with story, and the anti-stories that can affect changes that you’re trying to make in your business.

Lianne’s show is called ‘Story Powered™’ which is a platform for talking about all things story. Every week, Lianne chats with experts from around the world and asks them to share their expertise and experience in story powered leadership, employee engagement and business development.

Older man teaching boy chess

Part 1 of this series introduced the podcast and allowed me to tell you a little of my own personal story about how I got started in the storytelling field.

In this post we delve a little deeper into ‘story’ and the art of business storytelling, story listening and what we call story triggering.

The podcast continues…

Lianne:
One of the things that you and I talked about in a previous conversation when we were planning the show was you and Shawn didn’t like using the word story at first, is that right?

Mark:                   
We didn’t like the term ‘storytelling’. We started with what we called ‘story listening’ which is about using narrative as a form of organisational inquiry, so helping find out what’s really going on, helping to make sense of the world. We didn’t like the term storytelling because of the possibility that it can used for bad purposes. But the pull from our clients was too strong so we very quickly changed that view and started focusing on all three aspects of story work; so, storytelling, story listening and what we call story triggeringWhich is really that your behaviour causes people to tell stories about you. Some of them are good, some of them aren’t.

Lianne:
Right, okay, that’s great. It’s interesting because you and I talked to Karen Dietz last week, and then I’ve talked with Annette Simmons, and lots of folks in the story world. We’re all kind of not that comfortable with the word storytelling. I think maybe we need to get together and come up with a different term. Because like you say, storytelling is an aspect but it’s not the whole thing.

Avoid using the ‘S’ word

Mark:
Yeah, so I guess another thing when we’re coaching people, particularly when we’re working with leaders, during our storytelling for leaders programs, we encourage them not to use the word ‘story’. 

Lianne:
… tell us why, why that is.

Mark:
If you think about your childhood, how did stories begin?

Lianne:
It’s always once upon a time, right?

Mark:
Correct. And is ‘once upon a time’ going to be a true story or is it going to be fiction?

Lianne:
Of course, it’s going to be fiction, because it’s always happily ever after.

Mark:                   
Yeah, exactly. I guess one of the things is that if you stand up and as a leader and say, “Folks, I want to tell you a story,” you potentially trigger this coding; this association of story with fiction. I believe that’s the last thing you want people to be thinking; because you don’t want somebody to be thinking, “Wow is this going to be true or is this going to be made up?” There are many ways to introduce a story without ever saying, “Let me tell you a story.” In fact, even worse is to say, “Let me tell you a good story”.

Lianne:
Yeah, or even, “Let me tell you a true story,” maybe.

Mark:
Oh, well, that’s exactly it!

Lianne:
Implying, everything else I’m going to tell you is not true.

Mark:                   
We do everything we can to avoid setting up a comparison of a story on the one hand, truth on the other. We don’t encourage leaders to use fiction in any way, shape, or form. We try not to set up that contrast.

Lianne:
Absolutely and that makes a lot of sense. In terms of your work with companies…what kind of work do you do? What does your work involve when you go into a company; what do you help them do?

How do you get your message heard?

Mark:                   
There’s a number of things. Firstly, we help improve leaders’ ability to communicate, their ability to influence, to engage, to inspire. In fact, it’s really much simpler than that; we help them be understood. We help them be remembered and we help them have impact to cut through that huge amount of information overload that people are experiencing; so, how do you get your message heard? That’s one aspect and the other aspect is we work with organisations to convert their strategy into strategic stories. Then we work with leaders to help them find and tell their version of the story and how they embed that in the organisation.

Lianne:
Nice, oh, cool. That sounds so easy. And, you bring humanity to our work places. It’s funny, even though we’re laughing about it; it’s the thing that’s needed most, right? I hear executives all the time and they’re struggling, and we have these really significant employee disengagement rates. That’s a great process, but how do you think stories bring humanity?

Mark:
If we contrast story with the normal organisational communication which tends to be very non-specific, very abstract, very difficult for people to picture. People become objects rather than subjects; stories return them to being subjects. We heard a lovely example of this recently.

A leader stood up in front of a heavily unionised workforce and there was a lot of anger in the room. He stood up to explain a particular issue and he started by asking people, “You can ask me any questions, the only requirement I have is that you must address me by name. You have to ask me a question saying, ‘Excuse me Gary, so you have to use my name, Gary.” He started talking and someone in the back goes … He started being quite aggressive. “How dare you do this, you never to listen to us!” Etc., etc.!” Gary said, “No, no, no, please stop. Could you start that again, this time saying, “Gary, I have a question.” The gentleman who had been quite aggressive said, “Ah, excuse me, Gary,” and he asked his question in a very calm, collected way. It moved, by using his name, Gary had moved from being an object, which we could pretty much justify any behaviour towards, to a real person.

That’s what that tiny little example is what needs to happen a thousand fold more in our organisations.

Lianne:
I love that example, because it’s actually when you’re a worker you just see the other, the ‘us and them’, the management; you’re the management and it does depersonalise. Similar to, and especially, in a unionised environment often it’s kind of, “They.” I love that example, that’s a really great example.

We’ve talked about what story telling is, or why story helps us become more human when we become the subject.

In Part 3 we’re going to really get into talking about a new strategy, or communicating a new way of doing business, which is one of the most important and most challenging things a business can do.

You can listen to the full podcast below:

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

One Response to “Story Powered – Communicating strategy with story part 2”

  1. chetan Says:

    Great Post! I like the point not to mention S word.

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