Baum der Hoffung © Otmar Brettschneider

Baum der Hoffung © Otmar Brettschneider

This article is right for you if you can whole-heartedly agree that communication to convince and give direction to your teams and other stakeholders is far more than the typical company speak via bullet points in a presentation, dry memos or hyperbolic missives. Persuasion and influence is needed to connect with customers, to motivate yourself and others to reach goals, and to facilitate change.

Stories are the key to the hearts and minds of your customers and your workforce. Stories express how and why life changes, patterns of living and very personal and emotional experiences. Stories can change the way we think, act, and feel. They can form the foundation of an entire corporate culture, and they have the power to break down barriers and turn bad situations around. Stories can illustrate our ideas and capture our imagination.

Human beings have been communicating via stories for more than 20,000 years, back when our flat screens were cave walls. Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points. It is far easier for us to remember stories than the cold hard facts because our brains make little distinction between an experience we are reading about and one that is actually happening. Also, our brains are insanely greedy for stories. We spend about a third of our lives daydreaming – our minds are constantly looking for distraction – and the only time we stop flitting from daydream to daydream is when we have a good story in front of us.

A client of mine, a middle-aged C-Suite Executive, struggled advancing a corporate restructuring program whose execution and completion was crucial for the new vision to come alive and for the new reality to evolve. He consulted with me to get to the bottom of the matter; and together we tried to find out what was in his way. On the façade, he tends to display a very friendly, gregarious, cheery, and jovial demeanor. Layer by layer we searched for the root cause of his blockage, and he still was not able to shift his perspective to see it. So I told him this story that my very best friend has told me, and she has learned it from her granddad in Turkey.

The fairy tale of the sad sadness
Once upon a time, there was a little woman walking along a dusty country road. Apparently, she was quite old, her walk and her smile, however, displayed the radiance of a carefree girl. She stopped next to a huddled figure who sat at the roadside looking down. The being sitting in the dust of the road seemed almost disembodied. It was evocative of a grey blanket with human contours.

The little woman leaned down to the figure and asked: “Who are you?” Two nearly lifeless eyes looked up tiredly. “Me? I am the sadness”, the voice whispered stagnantly and so quietly that it could barely be heard.

“Alas! The sadness!” the little woman shouted delightedly as if she was greeting an old friend. “You know me?” the sadness asked skeptically. “Of course, I know you! Time and again, you have accompanied me on my journey.” “Yes, but ….”, suspected the sadness, “why aren’t you escaping from me? Aren’t you afraid?” “Why should I run away from you, dear? You know best that you eventually catch up with every evader. But what I wanted to ask you: Why are you looking so discouraged?”

“I …, I am sad”, the grey being said. The little woman sat down next to the sadness. “You are sad, hey”, she said, nodding her head sympathetically. “Tell me what is distressing you.” The sadness sighed deeply. “You know”, she started reluctantly because she was surprised that someone actually wanted to listen to her, “the truth is that no one really likes me. It is my destination to join people and to stay with them for a while. But when I come to them, they shrink back. They are afraid of me, and avoid me like the plague.” The sadness gulped heavily.

“They have invented sentences aimed at banishing me. They say ‘Hogwash, life is bright.’ and their false smiles lead to stomach cramps and breathlessness. They say ‘Everything that makes us stronger will be praised.’ and then their hearts ache. They say ‘You just need to pull yourself together.’ and they feel the tension in their shoulders and backs. They say ‘Only wimps cry’, and their held-back tears almost blow up their heads. Or they use alcohol and drugs to numb themselves, so that they do not need to feel anything.”

“Oh yes”, the old woman confirmed, “I have met people like this very often, too …”.

The sadness slumped. “And all I want is to help people. When I am close to them, they can see themselves. I help them, build a nest and nurture their wounds. Everyone who is sad has a particularly thin skin. Some suffering breaks open again like poorly healed wounds and that hurts very much. However, only those who can accept sadness and cry all the held-back tears are able to heal their wounds. But some people do not want me to help them. Instead, they paint their faces with shrill laughter to cover their scars. Or they put on a shell of bitterness.”

The sadness kept silent. Her crying was weak at first, then stronger and eventually really desperate. The little old woman put her arms around the huddled figure to soothe her. How soft and gentle she felt, she thought, and gently stroked the trembling bundle.

“Cry, just cry, sadness”, she whispered affectionately, “take a rest to re-collect your strengths. From now on, you do not need to walk alone. I will be by your side, so that dispiritedness won’t gain more power.”

The sadness stopped crying. She straightened up and looked at her new companion. “But …, but – who are you?” “Me?” said the little old woman with a smile, “I am hope”.

Needless to say, that this fairy tale presented a light-bulb moment for my “C-Sweet” client. He realized that he had been ignoring emotional signals of others and himself, and that he had always had a hard time accepting what is. He is now working on acknowledging all his emotions, not just the “pleasant” ones.

Inspired Executives love stories – we love to listen to them, create them and change them, too. Using stories makes your message memorable, gives your audience something to relate to, and captures their attention, motivating and inspiring them in new ways. Stories tap into more than one element of communicating. Contact us if you want to work with us on the story you are telling yourself about yourself and your future. Become a great storyteller, communicator and effective leader!

Greetings from Frankfurt, Annette and the Inspired Executives Team.