Stories from the Field offers an opportunity for SIO members to share your knowledge, thoughts, and experiences with others who are actively using story in their work.
By Julienne B. Ryan
Have you had this experience?
You’re at a business event and you’ve met a fellow attendee and have spent the last five minutes sharing the basics like your names, job titles and event-related comments.
You think you’re doing a reasonable job of being appropriately engaging and inquisitive. You haven’t made any verbal social missteps. You’ve even begun to ask your best networking questions. As far as you can tell, your interaction is going very well.
However, in a couple of minutes, you’ve started to experience some inner tension. You start to think “Am I talking too much?” or “Are they interested in what I have to say?” Then you hear The Clash’s* timeless question “Should I stay or should I go?” resonating in your brain. You don’t want to outstay your welcome, so you’ve convinced yourself that you should end this conversation quickly. You say your good-byes and head to the coffee station with your mobile pressed to your ear.
You may have ended your conversation too soon, before the real story had a chance to come out.
Chances are, you were so focused on making a good impression that you thought that the tension you were experiencing was negative, so you allowed your inner critic to take control. By doing so, you may have ignored your intuitive gut that was sending you some unexpected comments.
You know what I’m talking about. You ignored that inner genius part of you that makes connections that don’t make immediate and rational sense, the part of you that comes up with some incredible ideas when it’s allowed to do its job, the part of you that connects the dots into stories.
Sometimes the tension you are feeling in networking sessions is not pressure to please stop talking, but an intuitive prompt telling you to take a chance and share an idea, comment or question that has flashed across your mind.
Sometimes during these networking moments, you just need to allow yourself “to be.” When you are patient, interesting things can happen when you go off-script, be spontaneous and ask one more question.
I am sharing this concept because I enjoy “people connecting and networking” for my work and in my personal life. I enjoy those spontaneous conversations that occur when I travel, work or even when I run errands.
I started to think a lot about how we approach networking after I had some unexpected conversations that showed me how “connected” we all are, how we are linked in one glorious story. It all came about because I took a chance and asked one more question.
I recently traveled to Peru with my husband and visited Inca ruins. I turned to the couple next to me and asked, “So where are you from?” They live in the next town. Seriouslyl! A short while later, our tourist chatter changed to “So what do you do back home?” That’s when I learned that one of them is a senior level executive consultant and we have numerous contacts in common.
The next day, my husband and I met an Irishman who lives in Peru, and we found that he went to primary school with a friend of ours in Ireland. Amazing connections were uncovered 3,770 miles away at 11,400 feet about sea level in the middle of the Andes.
Shortly after I returned to NY, I experienced a hellacious commuting situation. I and a few thousand other fellow commuters were stuck. We weren’t going to going anywhere for a long time. So I turned to the guy on my left and asked if he knew anything about the situation. He updated me, shared some concerns and mentioned his destination. That’s when I asked one more question and learned that he and my husband were fellow educators at the same school. Then the guy on my right starts talking to me, and I learned he’s a supply chain engineer! It gets better.
Later, I shared my experiences with Rod Colon**, a colleague and master networker. He listens for a minute and asks “What’s the supply chain guy’s name?” I tell him. He knows him and says, “I taught leadership classes at his company.” Unbelievable.
A couple of short conversations revealed multiple, amazing connections. We are all part of one big story.
I started to think about each of these encounters and how most of us prepare for and conduct networking conversations. How many times do we meet someone and think that we won’t have anything in common? How many times do we make assumptions that the person we are speaking to is not the person that can help us?
We draft a list of sequenced questions, rehearse them and visualize a successful outcome. However, while networking preparation is a key component, it’s also important to remember that the best conversations happen when we allow for a natural, unscripted flow. Story connections emerge. Our prepared questions should serve as a guide. If we try to control the conversation too much, we may actually miss opportunities to connect and learn. We could miss out on the unexpected, the real story of why you are standing next to each other.
So the next time you’re chatting with someone, be patient with yourself and remember that you can’t always be in total control. Take a chance and listen to the inner voice that wants you to say “Tell me more” and ask one more question.
Unexpected connections are everywhere. We are all part of the same story. Consider the possibilities.
*The Clash was a British Punk Band in the ‘80’s!
**Rod Colon, career coach, master networker, writer.
by Andrea Heckelmann
One of my clients, in order to expedite the process of installing a new IT program, used an existing platform, rather than creating a new, customized version. After almost a year’s worth of efforts that included several postponed go live dates, management decided to stop the current project and direct the efforts toward creating a new platform. For those involved with the effort in the past year, this decision was very disappointing. It would be difficult to get the team excited about starting the project again, this time with a new platform.
The updated project was to be kicked off at a team meeting. I was in the role of the project lead and the client and I were discussing how to convey a positive message about this change in direction. It was clear to us that explaining the facts and data behind this decision might not be sufficient. It lacked emotional impact. We needed the team to embrace the new tool. The question was how to keep the team members motivated to re-start with a different tool.
It was decided that I would open the meeting with a personal story, a kind of parallel narrative account.
On a beautiful Bavarian morning, my husband and I began a hike in the Austrian Alps. We were the team. We carefully plan these hikes and had a clear picture of two possible routes to reach the top. The previous winter we had hiked half of the path on what was deemed to be the shorter route, and since we were familiar with that path, and because it was shorter, we decided that that would be the best route. As we began the journey, I envisioned what was ahead of us, how it would feel to get to the apex, and how wonderful the view would be when we arrived.
The air was crisp as we began following the trail up and down the route. As we continued, the trail changed and suddenly was encumbered with rock outcroppings. These unexpected hurdles slowed our progress, and when we checked our GPS for better navigation, it showed that we should take the next possible right…
But, instead of a path to the right, there were only larger stone boulders, I mean really big stone blocks. We had already spent more time climbing than we had anticipated, and I became concerned that we would not get to the top, which was our clear objective. Even though I wondered if we should stop and go back to the beginning, our car in the parking lot, we continued.
As we searched, we finally saw a tiny, narrow path to the right, a new way to move forward. We started on this detour from our original plan. The path was wet and muddy. Soon we became totally soaked as this path took us underneath a hidden waterfall. The waterfall was not high or wide, but it was breathtaking because of the rocks surrounding it. When we emerged on the other side, we stopped for rest and sat listening to the music of the falls.
Rejuvenated, we moved on. We followed a long trail around the waterfall. Progress was slow, though. It felt like we were not nearing our objective. I kept telling myself, “slow and steady, slow and steady.” I noticed, despite our slow progress, the route was enjoyable. The path was lined with little flowers in a huge array of colors. As we climbed higher and higher, a narrow pass between two rock walls appeared that we squeezed ourselves through.
Suddenly we had arrived. We were standing on a ledge looking at the valley below us. The view was incredible. The panorama in front of us was stunning, even more wonderful than we had anticipated.
The detour my husband and I had taken provided us with wonderful memories of the hidden waterfall, the beautiful flowers and the amazing view, but also gave us pride in our ability to overcome adversities, adapt to a changing environment, and still reach our goal.
After I told the story, I related to the team members that what I had learned from that experience was the truth that sometimes a detour can be better than the original plan.
I explained this was exactly what happened while we were running the current project. We recognized we were on the wrong path as we faced many technical issues, which slowed the progress of the project down, like the stone blocks and rocks on my hike. The objective has not changed on our project, only the way to it achieve has. We learned a lot from the original planned path. That information and experience will help us in completing the project.
At the end of my speech, I asked the following question: “Did you ever find yourself suddenly on a detour, which turned out to be the better route to take?”
This story was helpful for our team. Facts and data would not have had the same impact. The story aided the team in accepting and embracing the challenge of our current situation. The start of that meeting refreshed our members so that they could see the value of the new vision for the project. Our team came to realize that embracing the detour is sometimes more exciting then staying on the original plan.
Andrea Heckelmann is a freelance corporate trainer, consultant and project coach. She offers “change and business story workshops” for leaders and change managers. She has more than a decade of experience in project roles, working across industries, primarily as rollout manager and change communication manager. She lives in Munich, Germany.
With her fundamental knowledge of organizational change and with her certification as a change specialist, she understands the people side of change. Combined with her proven project management experience, her strong and creative communication skills, she supports leaders and project managers in being more effective through storytelling in business.
Leadership Connext: The Role of Story in Voluntary Sector Leadership Development in Canada
by Glory Ressler
This selection illustrates the use of story in many forms in a major leadership development school in Canada.
The Missing Links
by Carol Russell
Story is used to enhance knowledge management in a British government department.
Letting Go through Story and Ritual
by Barry Heerman
This example illustrates how story was used to assist a chapter of the American Red Cross move through a transition.
Using Participant Stories to Understand Consumers: A story about a new and simple way to research consumer preferences
by Madelyn Blair and Molly Catron
This paper is a complete description of a marketing project for the Korean company, LGE, a manufacturer of home appliances and electronic components, who wished to better understand their American market through the use of personal stories.
Heroic Acts in Humble Shoes: America’s Nurses Tell Their Stories
by Susan Osborn and Gene Edgerton
Susan Osborn and Gene Edgerton conducted the following interview with Irene Stemler at the 2005 National Storytelling Conference in Oklahoma City.
The Power of Story Magic
by Susan Osborn and Gene Edgerton
Susan Osborn and Gene Edgerton conducted the following interview with James Nelson-Lucas at the 2005 National Storytelling Conference in Oklahoma City.