Certain lessons are best learned from experience— but much of the time you can’t manufacture an experience for someone. When the experience of failure is too expensive or disastrous to endure – story can simulate an experience so a learner can vicariously live the moments before, during, and after an event in the theater of his or her own mind.
Other lessons, like patience are rarely learned once and for all. We have to learn these lessons again and again on a regular basis. And posters on the wall don’t cut it. If someone is being impatient, telling them to “be more patient” is not going to get good results. Better to tell a story of patience in a pace and with timing that demonstrates its rewards. Chances are a story will work better than advice. Discipline, humility, respect, cleaning up…these skills need role models and stories to help learners develop the habits you seek.
At its best, a “teaching story” transports your listener into an experience that lets him or her see, smell, taste, touch, hear, and feel a real situation in all its ambiguity, time pressures and real life issues. It imprints into the listeners mind a “never do this” or “this is how it is done” memory that can equal a true experience. A teaching story is a no-risk demonstration–a trial run by imagination.
Identify a few basic tasks you would like to see improved. Delete anyone you have a bad relationship with. Go back to Who I am, Why I am here, develop a good relationship and then worry about correcting their mistakes.
Consider the deliverables of a good job and move back upstream to consider what they must actually do to deliver excellent results. Consider ambiguous situations where you imagine that staff might need to come up with creative solutions. One idea is to simply list your top five pet peeves.
Timing is important with teaching stories. By definition, teaching methods should create good performance and avoid things like hurt feelings, conflicts, wasted time or outright disasters. A good time to tell a teaching story is before anything has gone wrong. Training classes should be filled with teaching stories.
“Okay, on three, everyone take two steps to the right.”
“If they can’t tell us apart, no one gets in trouble.” If you’re afraid to stand alone, you’ll never stand out. A cohesive team can move quickly, but a scared team isn’t going anywhere fast.
“Concrete wall.. Dam.”
Ahhh, the frustration of working in large organizations. If you don’t have a sense of humor you’re miserable and chances are you just make everyone else miserable.
“What do you mean I’m not approachable? I AM smiling.”
Your face tells employees a story. They wonder do I tell the truth? Or do I let some other sucker do it…later?
“Have I ever told you the one about the time I grew back from just one arm?”
There are some stories that get old. Yes, they were amazing the first time we heard them. Fifteen years later, not so much.
“Personal space? What do you mean I’m in your personal space?”
Revisiting the original vision story can soothe petty frustrations brought on my late hours, too much caffeine and purported refrigerator thefts.
“So I know I’m the new guy, but I have some really great ideas. Seriously, they are great ideas!”
Enthusiasm is often viewed as naivete’. Slow down! Tell a story that builds your credibility. Let your ideas reveal themselves to your listeners.
“What I could teach you, my dear. Come closer and sit awhile.”
Wasps match some human behaviors: dominance, deceipt, and opportunism. All queens start alone, and manage the hive as a hierarchy. Everyone has a story, don’t be afraid to ask.
“Call in the sharks. That new fish is getting on my nerves.”
People (and fish apparently) will “kill the messenger.” Wrap the truth in story and avoid the sharks.
Most. Boring. Powerpoint. Ever.
No one will ever complain if you replace a powerpoint slide with a good story.
“Here are the chocolate candy samples. Maybe a lighter brown?”
Not flattering, but we remember “ick” details. Disgust is one of the original emotions. Just don’t overdo it.
“When they talked about transferring us I really expected we’d have a desk and everything.”
If you want to improve morale it takes more than telling a new story. The story needs to be true.
“HQ promoted me to be team leader. Correct me if I’m wrong…but do you see a team here?”
Before you get mad, consider explaining your frustration with a story to put your listener in your chair and see what you see.
Please just look at the new budget. Pretty please?
Some stories last a day. If you asked for too much money, you could plaster this little guy’s face all over the office. Do your own campaign on frugality. Wear old clothes. Tell a story.
“Fine. I’ll go to your two day retreat. But I’m not hugging anybody!”
Story feels too touchy-feely for some. Don’t force it. They might cry and get snot on your shoulder.
You want me to what? I don’t know any stories!
Most everyone says this when you ask them to tell a story. Keep prompting, what happened when…? Last big crisis…?
“I’ve heard it all before, you little monkey. Try again.”
New. Original. Unique. Products? Yes. Human needs? Nope. You can still use old stories to understand human needs.
“We didn’t have any problems until you arrived. A little sand in our faces, but no problems.”
Big stories rewrite reality. Welcome fear, it means people care.
WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?
Keep yelling…or ask to hear the story behind that constant suggestion? Listen it out of them and they will see the error in their thinking or you learn something.
“Hey, you can implement any policy you like….it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
There are ten territorial games people can play to block implementation. All are driven by the story they tell themselves.
“I’m your new boss. Allow me to demonstrate the parade rest I expect when I enter the room.”
Military style management can alienate staff and kill creativity. Obedience is the lowest form of cooperation.
“One more bite and we won’t ask again….promise”
Some people are never happy no matter how much you give them. The trick is to teach them to fly and find answers by themselves.
“Tony, give up already. If they really wanted us to fly…they would have given us wings that work.”
Doing more with less makes sense as long as you give staff the tools they need. Give your staff the tools of self awareness, storytelling, and dialogue.
“Having a positive attitude won’t make you more successful…but it will irritate your enemies enough to make it worthwhile.”
Sometimes the most valuable thing a group can do is lighten up a little. Creativity is more accessible when people are relaxed and having fun.
“Statistics say one in every four people suffer from mental illness. Look around. If the three people closest to you seem okay, it’s you.”
Sometimes a work group needs some good ol’ fashioned therapy. Telling the truth, hearing the truth, venting emotion. Afterwards everyone is exhausted, incredibly relieved that it’s over, and ready to get back to work.
“The entire team had our hair done just like the boss’s. It’s your turn.”
There is more than one right way to accomplish goals. Diversity isn’t just driven from the top down. All staff play a part in rewarding diversity.