How storytelling can help build trust in a new relationship
Where did Steve Jobs start Apple? Where did Mark Zuckerburg start Facebook? How do you know this? Maybe you saw the movies, or maybe you had already heard the stories before you saw the movies. And remembered them.
People may forget the facts about where you’re from, what you studied, or what your previous job was. But they will remember the stories you tell, because stories are “stickier,” more memorable, than facts alone (Heath).
Not only that, sharing stories can be a very powerful way to connect with someone. They give the person a glimpse into your life, showing that you are a real person and not just a colleague—which makes you more relatable. Stories can show your character and trustworthiness.
If you’re having an initial conversation with a colleague in order to get to know one another (see post “What do I say to her?”), and you are telling him/her about your background, try sharing a story.
How to tell a good story
Supercharge your connection and credibility through values
Compose your story
Get your colleague to tell a story
Tap into his/her values
How to tell a good story
1. Choose a story from your career in which you (the main character) were in some sort of challenging situation and had to make a difficult choice or take an action that requires self-sacrifice (Campbell). Ideally, the choice you make in the story should lead to a positive outcome in the end (a “Hollywood” ending). Here’s a simple story structure:
A. A challenge you faced
B. A choice you made to overcome that challenge
C. The outcome of making that choice
2. Choose a story that is relevant to the current conversation: talking about your careers and backgrounds. You may have an amazing story about the time you stood up to a bully in middle school, but if it has no connection to work whatsoever, your colleague might be a little confused about why you are telling the story.
3. Tell a story about a struggle that your colleague can relate to. While the details vary, many of us have gone through similar struggles at work.
Stories like these resonate with people, because hearing about the challenge you (the main character) stirs people’s emotions, while the ending leaves them with a positive feeling about you. Remember, you’re getting to know this person for the first time, so you don’t want his/her first impression of you to be a sad story.
What are values?
Values are a person’s core beliefs that guide his/her decisions and actions. You can tell a person’s true character (values) from how he/she acts under pressure, or when there’s no easy choice.
For example, the value of bravery can be seen when a person risks failure or embarrassment in pursuit of a goal. The value of integrity can be seen when a person shares his honest opinion, even if it’s unpopular.
You can learn even more about values in the opinion Organizer Mindset
How to follow up spreads
Supercharge your credibility and connection through values
Choose a story in which the choice you make in order to overcome the challenge reveals one of your values.
Make a long list of events throughout your career in which you have acted in a way or made difficult choices that show your true character.
Label the choice you made in each event with a value.
Narrow the list down to a handful of stories that are easiest to tell and easiest to understand.
Quality control – Make sure these stories show your true character—not just one-time occurrences—by identifying other examples of similar behavior in your life.
Build a connection with your colleague through a shared value
Frequency – First, make a list of the ten most common behaviors (good and bad) that you see in the way your colleagues work. They don’t have to be behaviors that everyone demonstrates, but there should be enough frequency that you see a pattern
Ethical – Then, select the best examples of how people behave in your organization; behaviors your mom or dad would approve of.
Successful outcomes – Then, narrow it down to the behaviors that lead to long-term success (for the company and the customers).
Value – For each of the remaining behaviors, try to identify the values that lie behind each behavior (e.g. teamwork, passion, honesty, etc.)
Shared – Now, From the handful of your own stories, choose one that also reflects a value that many of your colleagues have as well (e.g. bravery, integrity, trust in others, etc.).
How to REMEMBER
Show your flaws
The more that your story shows your human side (blemishes and all), the more your colleague will relate to you. Maybe you hesitated before making the difficult choice. Perhaps you learned the hard way by taking an easier path once before and suffering the consequences.
Compose your story
Write a simple outline of your selected story according to the Challenge-Choice-Outcome structure mentioned earlier.
(*Optional) Explain at the end of your story that you see this behavior throughout the organization. You might add that this is the reason you decided to work for the organization in the first place (if it’s true).
Practice telling your story. Seriously, be sure to practice. Few stories are ever good on the first telling. They require practice, feedback from a trusted friend, and editing.
Prepare two versions: a short version (30 seconds) or a long version (60 seconds). This way you can easily adapt your story depending on how much time you have with your colleague.
Warning: Don’t interrogate
Remember, this is a friendly conversation. You should never force a story out of your colleague; it’s more of a gentle coaxing. Think about your tone of voice and body language. Are you giving the person time to think? If the person seems reluctant to answer your questions, you should back off and instead share a bit of relevant information about yourself. This will balance out the conversation (but be careful not steal the attention).
What To Ask about
Get your colleague to share story
Hearing your colleague tell a story about his/her experience not only helps you know the person more deeply, but the conversation becomes more memorable for him/her as well.
Don’t expect your colleague to have a personal story ready at hand. That would be very unusual. However, this in no way means your colleague doesn’t have stories to tell. Everyone has a lifetime of great stories, and there is a lot that you can do to draw out those stories from your colleague. It starts with having a genuine interest in the person. After that, it’s all about the questions you ask.
Listen for clues – When you’re colleague starts to tell you about his/her background, listen carefully for what part of your colleague’s background he/she focuses on. This will often give you clues about what the person cares about (e.g. family, education, career, hobbies, etc.)
Ask follow-up questions based on what the person focuses on (e.g. What lead you to make that decision? How did that impact/influence you? How did it feel? What was the outcome?). Follow-up questions show that you are listening and interested in the person.
Everyone is different
There’s no such thing as a standard conversation. People can vary quite a lot in terms of how much they talk, how much personal information they are comfortable sharing with someone they hardly know, etc. Just because someone gives brief answers, it doesn’t necessarily mean he/she isn’t interested in talking with you; that might just be the way he/she is. When reading someone’s signals, you need to consider the overall context: culture, personality, context.
Tap into his/her values
You can really bring out the best in someone and elevate the quality of conversation by getting your colleague to reflect more on his/her own values—and you never need to use the word. Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
What experiences are you most proud of?
What experiences changed your outlook or mindset the most?
Why did you choose to work at this organization/company? (or “What makes you most proud about working here?”) This question has two purposes: it evokes a positive emotion, and it reinforces the shared community that you and your colleague belong to.
Notice that these are not “yes" or "no” questions. By asking “open” questions, you increase the likelihood that the person will give you a more detailed story. It’s also important that you connect these questions to whatever the person has been speaking about. They shouldn’t seem like prepared questions.
As mentioned in the post “What do I say to her?”, keep track of time and pay attention to your colleague’s body language. The amount of time it takes for you and your colleague to share stories about your backgrounds can vary quite a lot. However, it’s generally best to default by keeping the exchange brief. The main reason for this is because the other person may be too polite to cut you off, and if he/she feels that you have taken too much of his/her time, he/she may steer clear of you in the future. If, however, you keep your story short, you leave the person wanting to hear more, which is the goal.
It goes without saying that the strongest relationships are built on more than conversations; they’re built on shared experiences (struggles and successes). However, by sharing stories, we create a feeling of shared experience, which moves us one step closer to trust and connection.
Think of several stories from your career that might help people know more about you as a person? For each story, ask yourself the following:
What was the challenging situation?
What choice did I make?
What was the outcome?
What does the choice I made say about my values?
In what way might colleagues relate to the values in my story?
When and with whom can I practice telling my story and get honest feedback?