Use Strategic Storytelling To Be More Persuasive
To influence decisions in your favour, tell relevant tales that can sway the listener or reader.
Persuasion. It’s the art of getting people to do things we want them to. Without waving sharp sticks at them. Or falsely promising riches and fame Beyoncé would envy.
Trying to influence opinion is part of every workday. Justifying that request for a raise. Playing up the benefits of a new project to get it approved. Begging for leniency after causing a colossal screw-up.
Facts and figures may dazzle when seeking to sway decisions. But to reach in and twist the guts of an audience, there’s nothing like a well-told, strategically crafted story.
It doesn’t take a genius to make up fables.
Boss: “Why were you late this morning?”
Flustered Employee: “Umm, the bus I took was attacked by packs of evil dogs, who, ah, live in the invisible forest.”
Strategic storytelling is altogether different. First, it recites true incidents, not fabrications. Secondly, the incidents are chosen to illustrate an important point that the narrator wants driven home.
Targeting the message to a specific audience is the third trait. Grabbing their attention is the Holy Grail. Advertisers spend millions aiming commercials at narrow market segments.
Fourthly, the narrator wants the audience to take action – in pre-set ways. That raise request? Get the boss to say yes! Leniency for the error? Let’s all just look at it as a learning opportunity.
Simple Story Structure
A smoothly spun yarn turns chaos into order. There’s a classic flow to it: start with a beginning to set the scene; the middle is where actions happen; end by pointing out results that reinforce the main message.
Does this basic format seem familiar? It should for job seekers who’ve been asked behavioural questions at interviews. The S-A-R answer mode applies as a foundation.
* describe the Situation
* explain which Actions were taken
* highlight the Results
A Sample, FYI
Use strategic stories selectively. Say an employee’s looking to have a vital project approved. The boss is on the fence, not sure the recommended approach will work. In this case, a timely account serves as social proof:
“Remember last year when the old boss approved a similar proposal. She was also hesitant at first. Her big worry was that it would cost too much, even though our projections showed otherwise. Once she said yes, my team sprang into action. We used in-house resources where possible to save money, and delivered on time within budget. We beat our annual targets by 20% and, as you know, the boss got a nice promotion.”
Finding And Curating Content
It’d be nice if suitable stories could be ordered online, like shoes or rides. Good thing workplace happenings crop up daily. A colleague says or does something that falls flat. Someone solves a project problem that no one else could fix.
Keep watch for noteworthy doings. Scribble them down in point form. Put each one under a proper heading, such as Inspiring Moments, Dumb Moves, etc. Ask coworkers to shed light on their own experiences.
Beware The Limitations
Not every occasion calls for a story. When dealing with busy decision makers, they may want facts and figures only. Charts and tables might have to replace narrated tales.
Also, watch out for story staleness. Telling the same version over and over blunts its impact. And older ones might make the narrator seem out of touch.
Pumping Up The Persuasiveness
A strategic story should influence behaviour in the teller’s favour. To make this outcome more likely, the story should…
* Connect dots for the audience. Show them how this gets from point A to point B.
* Hammer home WIIFT (What’s In It For Them).
* Quantify where possible with standout numbers.
* Tug on the right emotions while also relying on logic.
* Have appropriate length for the incident and message being conveyed.