Once upon a something …
Stories, fables and metaphors
What stories can do
Stories and metaphors are a simple yet powerful way of demonstrating new ideas, providing the mind with deeper insight and meaning. Stories are conveyed through motivational anecdotes, seamlessly linking powerful and emotive words to what might otherwise have been a mere lifeless instruction. Presentations, talks, interviews and teachings can all be greatly improved by adding the odd metaphor or anecdote.
Stories and metaphors are a simple yet powerful way of demonstrating new ideas, providing the mind with deeper insight and meaning.
Stories with a hidden meaning captured within rhythm, rhyme, adventure and creation have been used throughout the centuries to pass on the tales and understanding of the past. For centuries clans and tribes have relied upon stories to pass on the history and wisdom of the past generations. Wandering minstrels used stories and rhyme to spread current news as well as propaganda, while religious books contain stories of intent and spiritual understanding.
We can find many examples of times when stories have been used to influence our perceptions and connect to our experiences, memories and emotions.
Stories are also fantastic for creating good business communication across genres and cultures. They can illustrate difficult new points, introduce new ideas and provide information offering solutions to difficult problems, changing ideals, influencing moods and offering a new perception of the list of choices available to our behaviour.
Stories are also fantastic for creating good business communication across genres and cultures.
Stories can be used to create rapport and to demonstrate common ground in experience or ideals. They can introduce the new and unknown by providing a reference map of understanding, and they can take an intent or make a point and convey it in a manner that is more acceptable to the subconscious mind.
Stories stir imagination and emotions, influencing the entire representational system in a way that creates strong connections within the mind, linking the words to deeper understanding.
How stories free the subconscious mind
Stories can influence our belief structures and open the door to new possibilities.
Your subconscious is always looking for ways to sort and code its information, searching out links and patterns and matching new information to old for a more streamlined understanding.
Stories engage both the left and right hand sides of the brain. The right side provides the creativity, the imagination and the story – the life to our tale – while the left side listens to the words and spots the logic, understanding the patterns and sequential information constructing the tale.
Stories have a brilliant way of engaging and distracting our conscious mind, freeing the subconscious to compare, sort, match and mirror with the information being offered. Because this new information is not perceived as a threat to our belief system, it is simply offered up as new information that the subconscious mind can sort through and gain new solutions, choices or ideals from.
Testimonials tell stories too
Testimonials and case studies in business are versions of storytelling; they recount information in an effective way that creates trust and demonstrates knowledge and success to your clients. “I found ‘Business X’ provided us with a service that was reliable and professional. The staff were friendly and knew immediately how to provide my company with the effective solution to our problem. We will certainly be using them again.” (Testimonial by Client Z.)
Testimonials and case studies in business are versions of storytelling.
This testimonial takes an idea (that Business X is good) and makes it real, or at least provides the possibility that it could be real (because Client Z says so).
By being presented with an example of Business X’s abilities, we are given apparent proof that a currently unknown idea or product (Business X) actually exists, as we now have some tangible evidence (the testimonial) that our mind can relate to, evaluate and create a conclusion from.
A potential buyer reading the statement would be able to link the testimonial from Client Z to the currently unknown Business X and create a probable conclusion that Business X is good at what it does (providing solutions), because Client Z has said so.
The route to understanding
To understand anything, whether words, objects, feelings or sounds, your brain has to recreate the experience first within the mind, reliving it and resonating with it before eventually arriving at a conclusion of understanding.
Imagine you were going to try and explain what emails were to your elderly and technologically naive grandmother. How would you set about it?
You might say something like: “An email is similar to a handwritten letter, but instead of using paper and pen, we type the letter on a computer and then use some-thing called the internet to deliver it for us. The internet is like the postal system, except it doesn’t need a stamp, and instead of relying upon a postman to deliver our mail, the computer does it for us. It’s a much more effective way of communicating, as it’s much faster and much more reliable than our postal system is.”
By using the words “like” and “similar”, you create connections between the two ideas that your grandmother’s mind can quickly spot, and then create a relationship of understanding.
Stories don’t have to begin with “once upon a time”. Any time you come back from a hard day at the office and retell the day’s events to your nearest and dearest, you are effectively storytelling – you are recounting the events of the day in a way that you know your audience will understand and resonate with. If you want your tale to have more impact, then you may add a bit of humour or drama. The more unusual the contents of a tale, the more likely it is to stand out within the subconscious, and the more likely people are to remember it.
Stories don’t have to begin with “once upon a time”.
All our stories contain the following vital ingredients:
• There is always a hero, a main character.
• There is always a villain or an obstacle influencing the tale.
• Other secondary characters, friends, co-workers, etc.
• The story has a plot, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
• An objective to the tale, a purpose.
• To finish off with, a conclusion.
Here’s an example:
“[Beginning] We had our reviews [purpose] at work yesterday. I [the hero] can’t believe how nervous I was, sitting at my desk, watching as my colleagues [secondary characters] sloped off one by one into the meeting room, feet dragging across the carpet before disappearing inside.
“I felt sick waiting for my turn, imagining all the terrible things that my boss [the villain] might say, all my flaws he might choose to point out.
“Before I knew it, the minutes had flown by and it was my turn to head towards the meeting room [middle of tale]. My heart began to race and my hands became clammy. I hoped I wouldn’t have to shake my boss’s hand.
“As I sat down, I saw that he was smiling. He leaned back in his chair and told me this would be an easy review to give, as he thought the work I had been doing so far was great [end of tale]. I immediately relaxed and began wondering what on earth it was I had been worried about [conclusion].”
Exercise: Using storytelling to get your message across
Think of a purpose or a message you would like to get across to someone else. Maybe you are going for an interview and you need to demonstrate your past working experiences to your interviewers.
1. Who is the main character in this tale (you, for example)?
2. What is the purpose of your story, the message you want to get across? (For example, “I am great and can do this job.”)
3. Who is the villain or what is the obstacle in the tale? (For instance, what problem did you solve that demonstrates your purpose?)
4. What is your plot, and what are the beginning, middle and end of your story? (For example, in your previous job [beginning], you were handling these objectives [middle] and the client thought you were great [the end].)
5. What is your conclusion? (For example, if they employ you they will gain all of these benefits because you can do X, Y and Z.)
If you really want to build trust from your employer, provide a testimonial from a previous employer or client (often known as references).
Metaphors provide us with a wonderful tool for taking the unknown and making it accessible. They enable us to effectively communicate our intended messages or meanings in a way that the subconscious mind finds easy to accept and understand.
Metaphors provide us with a wonderful tool for taking the unknown and making it accessible.
All of our thoughts are coded within our mind and stored away as referential patterns. Our mind uses this library of archived experience to refer back to and compare new information against, therefore allowing it always to remain abreast of the constantly changing world around us.
Our subconscious mind does not like the unknown, and to understand any new piece of information it must rely upon our previously collected and patterned resources and experiences to provide any new experiences, ideas or concepts with relevant insight and meaning.
It is through your previous patterned experiences that your mind is able to forge new relationships with your new experiences and by that means to understand them. One of your subconscious mind’s natural functions is to recognize similarities and relationships between information, acknowledging and linking these relationships back to any previously gained understanding.
Metaphors are a beautiful way of demonstrating the specific meaning behind our language. They also contain the immense power of being able to communicate meaning in a manner that is effective and often emotive, as they illustrate pictures in a way that simple language cannot. They allow the brain to make comparisons and connect words that would normally remain unrelated, but that when used in a different way can effectively demonstrate a point:
• “The office was a sea of silence.”
• “Working in a telesales environment is like working in a battery farm.”
Metaphors are a beautiful way of demonstrating the specific meaning behind our language.
Metaphors allow the listener to make paralleled conclusions from the information, relating it to their own understanding, gaining a new perspective and providing an emotive response that can motivate, open up new possibilities or highlight new perspectives.
NLP often uses metaphors to lead someone from one reality or context into another, as they are a wonderful way of introducing new concepts while keeping the intent behind your words tangible and relevant to the listener. Using them provides understanding by linking new ideas to the audience’s way of thinking.
Metaphors can also be a great way to gain access into someone’s perceived way of thinking. By discussing ideas metaphorically, and using their reality, you can often help people perceive new solutions to their problems.
Using metaphor to get your message across
PERSON A: Walking into that interview is going to feel as though I’m walking into the lions’ den.
PERSON B: If that case you’ve got to be prepared. What do you need to do to tame their killer focus on you?
PERSON A: Maybe I could distract them with my charm or examples of my past experience?
PERSON B: Okay. Well, considering you really want this job, and these interviewing lions are the only obstacle currently in your way, while you’re distracting them, how will you then turn this situation around so you change from being the hunted to the hunter?
PERSON A: While I distract them with stories of my experience, I could also weave into the tale my extensive knowledge, my acknowledgements and examples of what they would gain by having me on board.
PERSON B: Do you think by doing this you could turn these lions into pussycats and have them eating out of your hand?
PERSON A: I’m not sure about that, but it would be good if I could leave them purring when they thought about me in this role.
Metaphors are wonderful ways of exploring a situation differently, sometimes providing solutions that may not have been perceived otherwise. And metaphors can make a potentially intimidating situation appear less so, when qualities are altered slightly.
Metaphors can make a potentially intimidating situation appear less so.
Storytelling at work
Stories are a fantastic tool for creating impact within communication. But all stories develop and change over time, so learn to re-use the elements of your tale in a way that allows you to alter and manipulate its parts so that they can evolve into the structure that is most suitable for the purpose.
A well-told story can capture the imagination and subconscious of an entire audience. And a well-told story remains long after the storyteller is forgotten.
You can use storytelling at work to:
• Help your team look at new opportunities and choices.
• Introduce new concepts, products and training.
• Improve your interview or presentation techniques.
• Convey the values of the organization.
The creative flair we apply to our stories can also be used to alter the way in which we perceive the meaning or the impact of certain information. This is called “reframing”, and the ability to reframe is the ability to change your perceptions to view something from a different angle in a way that creates a new meaning.
For example, do you see the glass as half full or half empty? The same glass containing exactly the same amount of liquid can take on two different and almost opposite meanings depending on how you choose to view it:
• Glass half full – positive.
• Glass half empty – negative.
Imagine you’re at work and all the computers have crashed and taken the company off line for a couple of hours, so nobody can access the information they need to continue their daily activities.
This can be viewed as a disaster, or you can choose to look at it as an opportunity to take a couple of hours to discuss that new company training you just haven’t had time to get around to before.
Is a lack of promotion a sign you’re no good at your job, or an opportunity to seek more inspiring employment?
Is an interview something to fear, or an opportunity to embrace?
Everything has more than one perception if you actively choose to look at it from another angle.
Everything has more than one perception if you actively choose to look at it from another angle.
Exercise: 6-step reframing
1. What behaviour do you want to change?
“I want to be able to do ABC, but I always end up doing XYZ, or LMN stops me.”
Acknowledging that your subconscious only works in the positive, remember it has been operating this behaviour because of a perceived positive intention. Spend a brief moment allowing yourself to recognize and thank your subconscious for looking after you.
2. Ask your subconscious to acknowledge the part of your mind responsible for this behaviour.
Become aware of all of your senses, internal feelings, sights, sounds and sensations. Now, with this awareness, ask yourself internally, “Will the part responsible for XYZ behaviour come forward and communicate with me now?”
You will notice something change within you, as your subconscious responds (it may feel similar to your intuition). Keep practising this until you have a strong, established signal.
3. Now, with your response established, you want to move the positive intent out from the unwanted behaviour.
Ask yourself internally, “Will the part responsible for this XYZ behaviour become aware of the intent driving it, what is it trying to achieve?”
You should notice a “yes” response; you may even become consciously aware of the intent driving the function. If you get a “no”, don’t worry: you don’t have to become aware for the habit to change, but do then ask, “Is the part responsible for this XYZ behaviour happy to move the intent anyway?”
If you still get a “no”, then maybe you need to clarify your signals again.
4. We now want the subconscious to create new ways of addressing this intent.
Ask your subconscious, “Can the creative part of my mind find five different ways of accomplishing this intent through other more productive behaviours?”
Notice your response.
Because our mind operates on patterns and similarities, our subconscious recognizes the structures in our intent and can look through our internal library of existing behavioural strategies to find alternative outlets for it by matching it across to similar structures. Once our intent is linked to other similar structures, it can then let go of the unwanted behaviour as it now has alternative options for achieving its desired response.
5. Once your creative mind has uncovered (subconsciously – you may not be consciously aware of this) alternative behavioural options for your intent, you can then ask your subconscious to switch the intent across to these new behaviours.
Ask your subconscious, “Can the creative part of my mind now move the intent behind XYZ into the five newly identified options?”
Notice your response.
If you get a “no”, ask your subconscious, “Does any other part of me object to these new choices?”
Notice your response.
If you get a “yes”, then go back to Step 4 and ask your subconscious to come up with some more alternative choices.
6. Once the intent has been removed, you want to ask your subconscious to agree to let go of the unwanted behaviour and instead operate one of your new five options.
Ask your subconscious, “Is the part of my mind responsible for XYZ happy to let go of this behaviour?”
Notice your response.
If you get a “no”, go back to Step 2 and repeat the process again.
If you get a “yes”, ask your subconscious, “Is the part of my mind that was responsible for XYZ now happy to run these new behaviours instead?”
Notice your response.
If you get a “no”, go back to Step 2.
If you get a “yes”, congratulations! You have now successfully reframed your behaviour.
Becoming the storyteller
A useful tool for anyone to have is a small repertoire of stories that can be utilized within various situations throughout your life.
1. Spend some time identifying situations in your life in which it could be appropriate and even helpful to use metaphorical stories. For example:
• Sales pep talk.
• Explaining your company’s profile to clients.
• Explaining to your children what it is you do for a living.
2. Draft out the contents of your story. What is its objective, what is its conclusion, who is your audience, what points do you need to get across?
3. Using the framework highlighted earlier in this chapter, create the framework of your story to capture all of your details and important qualities.
4. Once you have written your story, re-read it and practise reading your script out loud until you have learned its main contents off by heart.
5. Practise! Begin introducing your tales into your chosen situations. How well do they work? Are there any elements you need to adjust? Any qualities that may need adding or editing? The more you practise, the better you will become.
By having a couple of well-chosen pre-prepared scripts, you will find that no matter what your situation, or how nervous you may find you are feeling, you can always rely on your subconscious mind to provide you with one of your specific scripts at will. Which means you will always have something useful to say, even in those nightmare situations when your conscious mind has abandoned you and gone completely blank!
Go for it! Stories and metaphors can shed a new light of understanding upon your words. They can help your presentations gain impact and can leave your message imprinted upon your client’s mind, long after you have gone.
Remember, everything is perception. An event, communication, situation or behaviour may have more than one meaning or more than one purpose.
By reframing the intent driving your actions, you may find you can change them from unwanted behaviours into useful ones.