The Power of Story – Part 3 of 3

The Power of Story – Part 3 of 3

The Fast Track To Connection

Humans love stories! We love stories so much that we unconsciously create story all the time to make sense of, or give context to what we are experiencing. In part 1 of this series I talked about how neurobiology and how story enables our brain to store and sort memories, experiences and emotions. When we don’t have the whole picture, we simply fill in the gaps – fact or truth has little to do with it.

Ever discussed past events with a sibling or old school friend? Then you’ll probably know what I mean. yYou know for a fact you were both at the same thing at the same time, yet you remember different things, or even you remember the same thing very differently. This is because of your individual neurological filters, the way you process and store information you are presented with. Essentially you each exist in the reality you have created through your own stories.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this, if your siblings / friends are anything like mine, a heated debate often ensues about who’s memory is correct – in fact we might feel anything but connected at this point. Here’s the thing though – we might create different story, but we share the same physiological reactions to stimuli we find happy, sad, exciting, scary and this is where story becomes an important part of connection.

Understanding some of the physiological impact of storytelling enhances your ability to engage people, to have influence and truly connect. The fact is our brains respond to story by producing chemicals – hormones, sometimes adrenaline or cortisol, but most often oxytocin – the hormone most responsible for empathy.

 

“We are all capable of telling great stories – great stories are simple, focused and

relatable”

 

Here is an unpalatable fact – people are not interested in your business. They might be interested in you as a person, a fellow human being, they are most likely interested in what your business can do for them. I’m not just talking about sales and services here, I’m talking about relatability, shared beliefs, confidence, trust and a whole load of less tangible markers of whether you are a good fit for them.

Story is your fast track to connection. When we connect with something it happens sequentially – physiologically, emotionally then logically. This might be so rapid a sequence that it’s undetectable – but it is sequential all the same.  Story gives people the context they would otherwise make up. It engages them emotionally and enables the limbic brain to explore and connect.

There are a few rules – your job is to tell stories that make people feel things, to evoke emotion and to influence thinking. This means your story needs structure, often referred to as a story arc – a beginning, middle and end.  This might be an intro to the situation, then a hero (or key character), a conflict or struggle (the middle), that gets resolved – not necessarily happily, but there is an outcome or ‘end’.

A great example of this comes from neuroscientist, Paul Zak’s research in 2004, he discovered the impact of oxytocin on the brain. During the course of his experiments he told the story of a father of a sick child – a true story, see Ben’s Story.

The gist of the plot is that the father struggles to be with his terminally ill son – it is just too painful. In the first video the father talks to camera while Ben plays in the background, he talks of his pain, how hard it is to be joyful around Ben and ends with the father vowing to be emotionally connected “until he takes his last breath.”  In the second video Ben and his father are spending a day at the zoo, it’s clear the boy is unwell, his head bald from chemo, and he is referred to a miracle boy once during the video, it doesn’t talk about cancer or death.  

Participants had blood taken prior to watching one of the two videos. The blood tests were repeated after the video. The first video, which demonstrates a classic dramatic story arch – intro key character with a struggle, a solution resulted in a rise in oxytocin and cortisol. The second video which lacked the tension and was more matter of fact than the first video did not create a rise in oxytocin or cortisol and participants did not share the level of empathy with the father that was demonstrated from the first video.

Remember, story is simply the context around your message, the bit that helps people to get it. This will only work if you are both clear and focussed on impact you want that message to have. It also requires you to be honest and authentic. People will quickly see through you if you are trying to be something you are not – and I’m not just talking about the BS lives people portray on social media here. If you are uncomfortable with your story it will show. If your behaviour, body language or tone are not what you are feeling it will show and those listening will feel uncomfortable at best and distrust you at worst. You might bluff your way through for a bit, but you won’t truly connect.

Being able to use story effectively takes the following:

  1. Courage – you have to commit, be all in and vulnerable in your story – this is not the same as baring your soul and dumping all of your problems, woes and failures on the listener, by the way. Vulnerability in this context is about honesty, dropping the mask and being yourself.
  2. Clarity – plan your story, look at the emotion you want to evoke, the message you are sharing and the value to the listener.
  3. Structure – use a story arc, create a set up conflict and resolution.
  4. Credibility – see the last paragraph! Your aim is to create a story that helps your listener along their journey, make sure it is simple enough to be understood and relevant enough to be relatable, and congruent enough to be believed.
  5. Practice – start using story in your every day interactions, get into the habit of using it to illustrate facts, information you share and influence you want to create. Again, I’m not talking about over sharing personal stories, or worse, other’s stories, I’m talking about the stuff that adds value and helps others along their journey. The more you use story the better you will become at being authentic, impactful and compelling.

In the end, story is simply about providing context for people to help them understand their journey and how it might intertwine with you, or your services. If you don’t provide that context, they – or their brains, will make it up.

Finally, remember we were born great story tellers – we may have become rusty over the years, but we know how to use stories to get our point across – just watch any small child, and chances are you were like that once too.

If you want to have a go at crafting some story for your business and you’d like some feedback join the Braver Business community on Facebook

When Will You Ever Know Enough?

When Will You Ever Know Enough?

As someone who values academia, who has had the privilege of being both student and staff in the university sector, and who loves learning for its own sake, I find myself somewhat conflicted writing this article.  On the one hand learning is a justifiable activity in its own right and on the other, I watch business owners struggle on a daily basis because they feel they need to ‘learn’ more before they can show up, get their product or service out to market or justify the prices they are worth. I’ve even seen people who spend more on learning how to do something than they are ever likely to make back from that thing.

Here’s the thing, intellectual curiosity is critical to success, to being a thought leader in your field, to being able to network and connect with all sorts of different people – reading, watching, listening absorbing new knowledge keeps us agile and helps us to grow and adapt to life and business. When it becomes a distraction, a procrastination tactic, a reason not to do stuff – then you and your business have a problem. I believe we each have a place of balance, a level of knowledge – or place of ambiguity from where we are happy to act, and this may be different for you than it is for me, and that’s ok.

When I talk about this balance I’m really looking at personality traits and patterns, not habits and stories we tell ourselves. Many personality profiling tools stem from four quadrants: fact / process driven extroverts, fact / process driven introverts, people / relationship driven extroverts and people / relationship driven introverts. Personally, I use DiSC profiling with clients as it is practically and easy to understand; they all do the same job – help you to understand yourself and those around you better so that you are more able to connect. They are not designed to put you in a box, give you an excuse or somehow justify your behaviour.  That said, if you naturally lean towards the fact / process driven traits, you are likely to need more information in order to act, than your more people / relationship driven colleagues. Those with a more extrovert preference are likely to make decisions faster and with less need for all the facts than those with more reflective introvert traits. These are generalisations, and the important thing for you is to understand where your balance sits. This way you can recognise when you genuinely need more information to act and when you might be procrastinating or making excuses for something you find scary in some way.

Let’s be honest, putting your stuff out there for scrutiny, criticism, maybe even ridicule is scary – it doesn’t matter if it is something you’ve made or something you teach or a service you provide. Keep it under the radar and you can keep perfecting, tweaking and playing with it without putting yourself at risk of any of the above. Yet the unseen risk to your business, your self-esteem and your reputation is far greater by keeping your stuff under wraps.

At the end of the day, what good is knowledge unless you use it?  I enjoy learning for its own sake, I enjoy applying what I’ve learned just as much – most of the time. Does this mean doing something new, or selling something new doesn’t scare me – hell no! I’m just about to launch my first Co-working space, I’m terrified! There will be stuff I don’t know, things I’ve forgotten, and plenty I do wrong – will waiting to open prevent or reduce that, I doubt it. What it will do is increase my apprehension, allow me to hold off on sharing this with our local business community and cost me a load of money. By the way, it’s too late to be paralysed by fear, our open day is 29thNovember, 4 days after I return from hosting a business retreat in Morocco.

The point I’m really making here is that if something is important enough to you, if it’s impact matters enough, it’s courage not knowledge that moves you forward. You are likely to sit somewhere between apprehensive and terrified, and your brain will go into protection mode. Its job it to keep you safe and you are about to do something new, different and potentially risky. You are neurologically pre-programmed to mitigate that risk, to find reasons why your course of action is incorrect to reduce the perceived threat level to your very existence – sound a bit dramatic? Well it is exactly what is going on in your unconscious!

To overcome this, you have to consciously override your unconscious processing. Taking some action, whether it’s deep breathes, a brisk walk or pushing send on that mail out, is the best way of altering your neuro chemistry – of regaining control of your over active brain. Going back to the computer to do a bit more research or signing up for another course is unlikely to solve the problem or to help you bank balance.

Next time you feel the urge to learn something else, take a moment to check in with what’s going on – is it genuinely new knowledge or a new perspective, will it enrich you or bring you pleasure and is it a reasonable use or you time. If yes, great, enjoy yourself. If on the other hand, it’s reactive, driven by a fear of not knowing enough, exposure or straightforward distraction therapy, then ask yourself what is really in the way, and more importantly what will it take for you to feel safe enough to act.

It’s a cliché but imperfect action trumps inaction every time. It you want a bit or support; accountability and connection join the Brave Facebook community.