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Recently I attended an insightful workshop, Lead Culture of Trust – Tell Stories, facilitated by Julie Kratz (Pivot Point) and Alex Rufatto-Perry (Practically Speaking LLC). The description on their promotional flyer hooked me: “Research shows that human connection, through storytelling, drives engagement, performance, and retention. Your people want to connect with you, and with each other.”

That’s a tall order for a story – the power to establish trust and connection among storyteller and group! Can a simple story really do all of that?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized it can. For example, Alex shared a powerful story in the workshop. She described a man, Dave, in his middle age years who approached her about being coached. He was gruff, abrupt, outspoken and somewhat abrasive – a tough nut to crack. Until he told Alex his story. Then the humble, vulnerable, malleable side came out in him. And there, right there, was where Alex uncovered his potential for transformation through coaching.

Years ago, my journalism-major daughter gave me an important tip about storytelling that always stuck with me: the way to the universal is through the specific. The more specific you are about the details of your story – date and time, place and people, vulnerabilities and strengths, failures and successes – the more your listeners (or readers) will relate their personal stories to yours and connect with your experience.

That’s exactly what Alex did with her story. She detailed specific information about when, where and how her connection with Dave came about. She described her initial feelings of doubt, Dave’s intimidating demeanor, her fears, his insistence, her anxiety, his conviction. Deftly, she even mimicked the imposing posture and threatening gait of this potential client. Then she hit us with the breakthrough – Dave’s backstory. And suddenly Dave’s story-within-her-story untethered in me vivid memories of various encounters with seemingly impenetrable personalities that suddenly melted like wax, giving way to hope.

Well done, Alex! Not only did light bulbs go on for me about stories themselves, but I also wanted to share my story with you and hear what was going on in everyone else’s head in that workshop. And there it was – trust and connection.

If you really want to establish trust and connection with an audience or team, start telling your stories. Be specific in describing detail; be vulnerable in describing emotion (yours and others’); and be deliberate in establishing purpose. Stories pack a lot of punch. In addition to creating that trust and connection you seek, stories often serve to capture attention, motivate improvement, inspire heroism, alter decisions, and often serve to ignite the change you seek in individuals, teams, and entire organizations.

Denise McGonigal
Denise McGonigal
Denise is the Manager of Training Services for Purple Ink and co-author of The JoyPowered Family. With Learner in her top 5 Strengths, she is passionate about continuous learning both for herself and others.

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