Thursday, September 26, 2013

Story Telling–Applying Personal Context to Data

As a long time strategy guy, I am the type of person who drives people crazy with questions like “why?’ and “how do you know?”.  I have always believed the idea that if the mere existence of a question evokes anger or other emotions in someone, then there is something buried in the emotion that warrants exploration. 

Sometimes when asking questions, what appears obvious to us may not appear obvious to someone else and it is at that point that the best, sharpest and most clearly illustrated data in the world just won’t convince someone of the point that we are trying to make.

It is at this point that we realize that if we don’t find a different way of making our point that we are condemned to an impasse, each side frustrated that they couldn’t “sell” their idea to the other.

This morning I attended a conference call regarding national emergency preparedness for a variety of scenarios.  After getting off the call, I had one of those moments where I just wanted to go throw up somewhere (not all of these meetings are gentle).

Shortly after getting off the call, a friend walked by, saw me, sat down for a moment and we exchanged pleasantries.

When she asked me what I was working on and I told her, it sparked a passionate conversation around her wonderment and bewilderment about why mankind seemed unable to embrace unlimited, unquestioned, unconditional love and trust in all scenarios – that to accomplish this would solve all of our problems.

It seemed so simple to her.

Try as I might to illustrate a response using tons of data and historical references (data is my life), my answers didn’t satisfy her questions at all and we were both getting frustrated with the conversation.

And then I explained it this way.

“Assume you are on a dark street at 3am in the morning and you are alone.  You see a large stranger approaching you in the dark.  What do you do?”

She replied “I blow my security whistle”, as she held up the whistle on her keychain.

Why?”, I asked.

“Because I am afraid he might hurt me”, came her answer.

“And why would you think the worst case scenario and not assume that he was approaching you in perfect trust and love?”, I asked.

“Because of my past history”, she replied.

And as she replied, the light came on.

Sometimes when you find that all of your glorious charts, graphs, tables, decision trees, logical perfection and everything else don’t seem to resonate with your audience, take a step back, pause and then find a way to wrap a personal story around what you are trying to present.

A story tailor-written to the context of the recipient’s Life experiences and not your own.

Because oftentimes the only thing that separates us from clear communication is the common context that best arrives in a good story.

In other words, we must touch the heart in order to influence the mind.

Have you touched any hearts lately?

In service and servanthood,


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