Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins

— How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate With Power and Impact — 

Expanding on themes she put forth in The Story Factor, Annette Simmons continues to make her case for the power of storytelling to affect people, and, therefore, business results. Hard to argue with that. Which may be precisely Simmons’ strategy. And she does tell a lot of good stories.

Whoever Tells the Best Story… also builds on Judith Bardwick’s work in One Foot Out the Door, which emphasizes that “feelings matter” all across the board, whether they belong to you, your employees, or your customers. Feelings or emotions are how we connect with each other, and, increasingly, feelings or emotions are how we connect with companies and products. Simmons agrees, saying, “Once food and shelter needs are met, the rest of our needs are psychological. Our psychological needs are met or unmet based on the stories we tell ourselves and each other about what matters most and who controls it.”

Stories carry the emotional connections between a company or product — including the people who make and/or deliver it — and the customers it serves. If that emotional link from company to product to employee to customer is broken or non-existent, the business has a much tougher time gaining market share.

The way to build these links, says Simmons, is through stories. She notes that “a perfectly happy customer can suddenly feel unhappy after hearing a story that another customer got a better product at half the price, then be satisfied again when you assure him that this story was not true and circulated by a competitor who didn’t have all the facts. Nothing physically changed, but the stories about reality completely change[d] perceptions of what is true, important, and thus, real.”

But the ‘best’ stories aren’t just any stories. They are your stories, ones you need to dig into yourself to discover and hone in their telling. If you don’t do your own internal work first, you can tell a story, and you may get a laugh, an a-ha, or a smile, but your heart, your self, won’t be in it, and your posturing will be immediately apparent to any audience. You’ll be quickly found out and discredited, hurting your chances, or, at least, delaying your potential, for success. Authenticity is the key, and in …Best Story…, Simmons actually provides note pages for the exercises she recommends, so you can do your homework right in the book.

Before she delves into the meat of her process, Simmons suggests we need to master “story thinking” by reframing our concepts of objectivity and subjectivity, starting from the very beginning. “Once upon a time, before you learned to be more objective,” says Simmons, “you thought you were important…. Chances are you asked questions that made other people uncomfortable. To protect you from a life of narcissistic, emotional waywardness, you were sent to school to learn how to be useful. You learned the scientific method…. Critical thinking, rational analysis, and objective thinking prepared you to put emotions aside and make better decisions.”

But human actions do not always plot neatly on a bell curve; we are variable, emotional, messy, individual, and yes — gasp — subjective in our behavior and outlook on life. Be not dismayed, however, for story thinking and storytelling provide those “useful” tools, because attention is the currency we need for any transaction — beginning, middle, and end.

“At a social level,” says Simmons, “stories replicate the neurological effect of attention in our individual brains. Society attends to what draws our attention, and what draws society’s attention is tended…. [W]hen you tell a story that both draws attention and is often retold within a group, you in effect control future feelings and filters about that subject. If you can control the feelings and filters of enough people you can alter their conclusions about reality. Attention is a prerequisite to influence because attention frames interpretations.” All that is to say, as Simmons continues, that “subjective is not the opposite of objective,” and that story is a “subjective thinking tool.”

Simmons provides many excellent examples and six useful frameworks for finding and telling appropriate stories.

  • Who-I-Am stories tell enough about you that the person listening is willing to trust you, which lets you influence their opinion, their reality.
  • Why-I-Am-Here stories put the truth on the table. Good or bad, own it and your listeners see you’re credible.
  • Teaching stories create a simulated shared experience that models the concept you want to get across.
  • Vision stories inspire a potential future and frame the frustrations as worth the cost. Better to underpromise and overdeliver, however.
  • Values-in-Action stories “demonstrate” a value you want to encourage or teach through examples of your specific actions.
  • I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking stories help break through to people whose minds are already made up, giving you enough space to build trust and dispel objections.

With humor, delightful stories, and useful exercises, Simmons illustrates How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact, as her subtitle states. Good show!

Author: Annette Simmons
Published: New York: AMACOM/American Management Association  ©2007

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos