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I saw a marvelous film today. Atom Egoyan’s Adoration. I got a call at 9 AM from a friend saying she had won tickets from the CBC and did I want to go. I, only moments before, had been silently lamenting the fact that I had failed to see even one film at this year’s International Film Festival, so you can imagine how quickly I reoriented my day. What a movie! And what a study on the power of storytelling. Without giving away the movie, it follows the impact of one young man’s story (told as if it were the truth) on the lives of both himself and others’ and then meditates upon the difficulties one has in getting away from a well told story once it has taken on a life of its own.
I was particularly moved by this film because story-telling has been a constant theme in my work lately. Appreciative Inquiry and all its delicate permutations is concerned with storytelling. Organizational change is approached from the perspective that change is better set in motion by understanding pinnacle strengths not entrenched weaknesses and thus AI processes frequently begin with an inquiry or investigation into what constitutes the positive core of the organization, in other words its “good story”. Combining my love of AI with the latest research in neuroplasticity is, quite honestly, blowing my mind! (See prior post for more on that!)
We are all story-tellers. What I am increasingly interested in is the way in which the stories we tell help or hinder the changes we seek to make in our lives. Coaching is about change. A client comes to a coach wanting something to be different. They may be seeking improved skills, career transition, greater confidence, more impactful communication, ability to influence and lead others, a greater sense of life balance, personal satisfaction, more success, less stress, etc. In short the client comes with a story of what was and a hope for what might be.
I believe my role as a coach is to help shine a light down the path of their preferred story. As we come to accept and understand the tremendous power of our own minds to influence the physical nature of our brains or how our stories and language pave the road of our experience, we have every reason to be enthused by the possibility that surrounds us.
The young man in Adoration was both a product of the stories told by others, and a great author for what was to come. The simplest of words has the power to set in motion tidal waves of joy, regret, wonder, worry, love, hate. I encourage anyone wishing to make a change in their lives to make a full hearted commitment to authoring a story that is exactly what they want to read every night. What’s your story?
Dan and Chip Heath are the brothers that brought you the New York Times bestseller Made To Stick. They have also landed themselves a nice monthly column in Fast Company. In April they featured a story called “Your Boss is a Monkey–Managing up using the tricks of exotic-animal training”. The gist of the article is that our reactions to inappropriate behaviors are either reinforcing or neutralizing. If we don’t like what others are doing we are advised to IGNORE IT. Not the person per se, but the behavior. Eventually this will lead the person to adopt new, more appropriate strategies for getting what they want in the circus ring of life. There is only one problem with this theory, it is unrealistic and difficult to practice. Perhaps with a two year old we can do it, but a tyrannical boss or a long-winded but respected colleague will be incensed or bewildered by your odd “Vulcan” demeanor. Instead try this:
Focus on what you want more of and when you see it blow on it. The best way to change a person (or a culture) is to recognize the inherent positive intent in others. That positive intent (however poorly conveyed ) is alive and well in some manner – it is up to you to blow on the delicate embers of more appropriate behavior. Acknowledge the behaviour you want more of whenever you see it, even it it is just a pale glimmer of what you long to see. In organizations we are quick to point out what bothers us about others, what we don’t like and don’t want. But if we adopt the principles of appreciative inquiry and appreciative leadership we start instead with a story about what we do want. I guarantee you will have greater connections if you fan what works as opposed to just ignore what doesn’t. It does however require your involvement in deciding what you want from the person in the first place.
For more information on appreciative leadership or to discuss bringing this powerful training program to your organization please visit my website and contact me by phone or e-mail