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Allowing Others To Tell Their Stories

I had an interesting storytelling wake-up call this past week. You see, the previous Saturday, my daughter passed her driver’s exam and became a fully licensed driver. We had a weekend filled with celebration, and I wanted to share the details with others.

When I came to work the following Monday, I was all ready to share our weekend adventures…from the unsmiling patrol officer who seemed to dare my daughter to be successful to the parental woes of having my child venture forth solo into the world of distracted drivers.

My Lesson began with the magic words, “My daughter got her driver’s license this past weekend.” …And I didn’t get the chance to progress any further.

You see, I had handed out the golden invitation for others to tell me their stories. At those words, everyone became animated and responded with either “I remember when I got my license” or “”Oh, I remember when my (son or daughter) got (his or her) license.”

What followed was about five-minutes of storytelling…some bittersweet, some conciliatory, but almost all universally funny. EVERYONE had a driver’s license story to tell, and it was as if I had pressed their “Play” button with my opening words.

My reaction to this was especially interesting to me. I quickly grew impatient. After all, I had started this conversation. I had introduced the topic. Didn’t they know that, by doing so, I had earned the right to proceed with my story? They could certainly tell their stories, but I had gotten there first and had earned squatter’s rights!

If it had happened once, I would likely have laughed it off. By the fifth time, I could tell that I was becoming annoyed. When it reached the point that I decided not to tell anyone else, I learned that word had spread because people came up to me and said, “I heard your daughter got her license last weekend.” My “Yes” response was taken as an immediate invitation for them to tell me their stories.

This started me thinking on two levels. The first, of course, was what my reaction said about me. Obviously, I needed the “spotlight” more than I would like to admit.

The second was how the desire for that spotlight served to shut off potentially significant contributions from others in the corporate storytelling environment that would have resonated with others. Outside of lectures, participation is often at the heart of effective learning.

How often in training sessions had I focused solely on telling my story and ignored the signals that others had stories that they were willing and wanting to share? What wonderful and inspiring examples had I cast by the wayside in my desire to perform?

Of course, it would be incredibly unprofessional for me to go into a session unprepared. I couldn’t say to myself, “I’ll start the class by asking if anyone has a story they want to share about the topic and then let the session run itself.” The outcome would likely be far from what it needed to be more often than not.

However, it does mean that I should be more aware of my audience. Good stories tend to almost burst through to the surface. You can see them in the expressions of those around you, just waiting to escape and be enjoyed by others.

On that Monday, I recall that I managed to tell two people the story surrounding my daughter’s obtaining of her license. Everyone else told me their stories…and all of them were interesting, some were surprising, and most of them were funny. They were true gifts.

I realize that now. And I resolve to be more attentive.

Thank you for reading.