shovel and rake

Stop telling the wrong story and start telling your story

We tell stories when we’re asking for things. Kids do it when they explain all the circumstances that require them to own the latest gadget. As adults, a great deal of the storytelling we do is in a business setting.

This starts when you write a cover letter for your CV and continues through your interview, networking events, grant writing, and presentations as your career progresses. At each of these moments, we’re asking for something. We ask for work, recognition, attention, interest, and investments.

Many people make a fundamental mistake when they develop their stories. They start by trying to imagine what their audience wants to hear. You look for cues in a potential client’s mission statement. You scan your organization’s strategy documents for key words.

This tactic doesn’t work. It creates distance between the story you tell and your personal truth.

So, how do you find your true story?

Your true story emerges most intact when you’re least guarded. It requires asking and answering hard questions, the ones that dig and expose and push you to try a little harder. It means that instead of waving off the questions that make you pause, you try to find an authentic answer.

These are my favorite conversations. I believe that everyone has a true core, an authentic drive that propels them forward despite all the stuff life tries to throw in their path. That truth may be different at work than it is at home. That’s fine. The point is, if you know why you’re doing something and can tell someone else, then you’ll have their attention. You’ll stand out because you’re telling your story, not your version of their story.

Do you want to have a conversation that brings you closer to your true story?

A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with a medical doctor at an academic hospital who was working on a grant application. When he wrote his first draft, he considered the institution’s focus on patient-centered care and wrote a nice little piece about why he wanted to make patient care better, including a reference to his own experience as a patient.

His text was full of jargon and it had no heart. It said little about the person and a lot about how well the hospital had done the work of communicating an institutional purpose to its staff.

The first thing I did was put away the paper and ask questions. What do you want to do? Why do you want to do it? No, that’s what it says on the hospital’s website, what do you want to do? You said something about caregivers. Why? That doesn’t sound like a focus on the patient, it sounds like a caregiver focus. How will that work?

This went on for half an hour while I took notes on the back of a frozen pizza box (you use what you’ve got!). The key to having this conversation effectively in any context is to listen for the words that slip in. When people feel just a little bit frustrated, they often change their vocabulary and these shifts are like signal flags to anyone looking for the real story. Why would you talk about caregivers if you say your concern is patient care? What do you want them to do?

Taking time to find the real story resulted in a 180-degree shift in focus from the patient to the caregiver. The final statement described a desire to change the goals caregivers used to evaluate patient care. The patient focus in care needed to start with changing the way caregivers set goals.

The result for the grant application? So far, it’s cleared the first round. Not bad.

Telling your story is hard, especially when you’re hoping for a “yes” from your audience. It takes courage and honesty to break through those often-imagined expectations to find your story.

Do this:
The next time you tell a story in the context of an ask, tell a story that draws on your core truth. Dare to ask yourself hard questions that lead you away from jargon and towards honest words.

Looking for someone to help you find and tell your story? StoryCraft offers individual storytelling consulting and coaching.

Posted in Storytelling and tagged , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.