December, 2012 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Seasons greetings from all the team at Anecdote. We are entering that time of year when families gather and recount stories and create new ones.
It’s been fantastic to work with so many of you during 2012. One of our objectives is to meet people and have interesting conversations and we’re planning to increase our efforts to get out and meet as many of you as we can during 2013. If you're interested in catching up with us in the new year, please send us an email.
Christmas is an important time for many of us. For others it’s a very difficult time. Among other things, it’s a time for gift giving. For those struggling to find the perfect gift, remember that little things can make a big difference.
From all the team at Anecdote, we wish you a wonderful festive season. We look forward to catching up with you in 2013.
For regular followers of our blog, you may have seen a short post I did earlier this year about this book, but it’s so good, it’s worth repeating. It would also make a great gift for Christmas.
It’s a ‘how-to’ guide based on Coyle’s research on the science and practice of building skill and developing talent which continues on his previous book The Talent Code.
He presents 52 tips organised into three sections: Getting Started, Improving Skills, and Sustaining Progress.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, in an easy to digest format. Most of the tips have a story that illustrate the point, and therefore help bring them to life, make the tips ‘concrete’ and also make them far more memorable.
It’s just a little book, but would be a great addition to anyone’s library who wants to improve something in their work life, the sports they play or the hobbies that undertake. Sounds like a book for all of us doesn't it? It might even fall into the category of ‘self gifting’!
It’s a fact - people love talking about themselves
If you want to improve your chances of building a connection, developing rapport and being liked by someone, get them to talk about themselves.
We all love talking about ourselves, and now research reveals why - it triggers the same pleasure in the brain as food, money or sex.
Harvard University neuroscientists, recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, have shown talking about ourselves feels so rewarding, at the level of brain cells and synapses, that we can’t help sharing our thoughts.
They used a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner to see what parts of the brain responded most strongly when people talked about themselves, rather than about about other people. Generally, talking about ourselves was accompanied by spurts of heightened activity in brain regions associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from food, money or sex.
Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, who conducted the experiments with colleague Jason Mitchell, even found that; “People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves”.
In several tests, they offered the volunteers money if they chose to answer questions about other people, rather than about themselves. Despite the financial incentive, people often preferred to talk about themselves and willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings so they could reveal personal information.
So, if you want to build a connection, develop rapport and increase your chances of being liked by someone, get them to talk about themselves. Even better get them to tell stories about themselves. As Terrence Gargiulo says, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.”
Here are some examples and story prompters to help get you started.
Hobbies – When have you felt proudest of your hobbies?
Skills – Have you ever had a moment when you were surprised by the skills you have or dismally lack?
Interests – What's your most boring interest and when have you really bored someone with it?
Talents – Anything you’re a legend of? When did your legendom shine?
Ambitions – What are you ambitious about? What fires you up? When have you been really fire up – and what got you going?
The holidays are a great opportunity to try some of these out, and practice getting people to share stories about themselves. It’s a very worthwhile skill for a whole number of reasons.
It’s been a big year for Anecdote. We’ve delivered our Storytelling for Business Leaders program over 30 times for a huge diversity of clients: scientists, CEOs, aspiring CIOs, leadership teams in government, private sector and not-for-profit organisations in Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK and India.
We’ve helped many large organisations turn their strategies into concrete, understandable and memorable stories and trained leaders to communicate those stories effectively.
We continue to deliver our leadership development program and have completed projects in areas such as mentoring, retaining knowledge and building more collaborative workplaces.
Daryl Cook rejoined the Anecdote team in June after a two-year break and it’s great to have him back on the team.
We moved out of our much-loved office in Rosslyn Street, West Melbourne and into our new digs alongside TrinityP3 at Suite 2.01, 63 Stead Street, South Melbourne. We look forward to welcoming you for a cup of coffee. Please also remember to update your address books.
The power of plain language when communicating strategy
Most leaders really struggle to use plain language, especially when it comes to communicating something like strategy.
Here at Anecdote we specialise in oral storytelling, and we see this every time we work with a group of leaders in helping them tell their strategic story, or when using stories to build employee engagement or when they are trying to influence change in their organisations.
They don’t seem to be able to get past the formal language they are used to using in business.
Instead of talking the way they normally would when they are sharing anecdotes informally, they resort to using big words, abstractions, and terms that people just don’t use in every day speech. And it gets in the way.
Using your own language, your own words, the way you normally speak increases the chances that people understand what you are saying, and what they need to do to make this new strategy a success.
With a bit of coaching, guidance and sharing a few stories we can usually get a group of leaders to tell their stories using plain language. But its much harder when it comes to how they write. Our default when writing is not to write as we talk, but to use much more formal language, complete with lots of complicated terms and big words.
I saw a great little tip yesterday about how to make your writing more informal.
I was reading an article about Irish author Maeve Binchy who passed away yesterday. She was a hugely successful author who has sold over 40 million books, been translated into 37 different languages and, in 2000, was ranked third in the World Book Day poll of favourite authors.
Part of her success has been put down to her informal, almost ‘chatty style’.
“I don’t say I was ‘proceeding down a thoroughfare’, I say I ‘walked down the road’. I don’t say I ‘passed a hallowed institute of learning’, I say I ‘passed a school’”.
When she was asked how she did it she said she simply wrote the way she spoke.
That’s the tip. Before you send anything out that you have written, read it aloud. Does it flow? Does it sound like the way you would speak? Are there words in their you would never say in conversation?
If it doesn’t flow, if it doesn’t sound like the way you speak, if you are using words you would never use in conversation - then keep editing.
Maeve Binchy also gave one more reason to use plain language, and to write the way you talk:
“You’re much more believable if you talk in your own voice.”
So move away from the big words, use plain language and you will build trust in you and the messages you are sending.
We are all rational beings, aren’t we? If I want to convince you of something, surely I just have to provide you with the necessary facts? Behavioural science research tells us that this approach simply doesn’t work. This article describes something that scientists have know for nearly 40 years and which organisations stubbornly refuse to accept.
The phenomenon of belief perseverance describes how false beliefs often persist long after they are discredited (Lilienfield et at 2012). Once we have decided that we believe something, we will tend to keep on believing it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Belief perseverance weakens the impact of new information on existing beliefs. In organisations, this phenomenon becomes critically important when trying to implement any sort of change; changing culture, embeding values or executing a new strategy. If people in the organisation believe something that runs counter to what you are trying to achieve, traditional approaches to changing these beliefs are ineffective. The normal approach is to reach people using reason, facts and slick powerpoint presentations. When it doesn’t work, we try even harder. We think we just need to find the right argument and we will win them over.
Not only is providing evidence to discredit a belief ineffective, it can also work against your objective by triggering the confirmation bias. Research conducted by Lord, Ross and Lepper (1979) suggests that people will not only persevere in their original beliefs but may come to believe in them even more strongly.
We often encounter this challenge when helping organisations convert their strategies into strategic stories. In every circumstance, we find what we call ‘anti-stories’; beliefs that significantly impede acceptance of a new strategy. For example, in 2009 we worked with an organisation whose strategy centred around the need to integrate three previously separate departments into a single organisation. We discovered a strongly held belief (anti-story) that integration was pointless as the organisation was bound to be split apart again in the near future. This belief stemmed from experience in the early 1990s when the three departments had been merged and then later separated again. This belief persisted despite countless assurances from leaders that it would not happen.
Once inappropriate beliefs such as these arise, they are stubbornly resistant to change (Slusher et al 1989). Simply discrediting the evidence that caused a belief does little to change the belief itself. For example, Ross, Lepper and Hubbard (1975) asked experimental participants to look at suicide notes to determine which were real. A third each of the participants were told that they were right 10, 17 and 24 out of 25 times. They were then told that they had been lied to and asked to estimate more correctly. Those who had been told higher numbers continued to guess high. In research by Anderson et al (1982), subjects were led to believe that either a positive or negative correlation existed between a firefighter’s preference for risky versus conservative choices and their success as a firefighter. Half the subjects were debriefed about the fictitious nature of the case studies used and the other half received no such debriefing. Fascinatingly, subjects who were explicitly informed that the initial data were completely bogus held beliefs that were only slightly less extreme than the corresponding beliefs of the subjects who were never told that the data was fictitious.
While we don’t pretend to have a silver bullet for this challenge, we have had considerable success changing beliefs (we call it tackling anti-stories) using our storytelling, story-listening and story-triggering approaches. Our white paper on tackling anti-stories describes some approaches that can help.
You can’t beat a story with just the facts, only with another story. Or, as philosopher Gordon Livingston more eloquently puts it, “It is difficult to remove by logic an idea not placed there by logic in the first place.”
Anderson, C. A., Oliver, M. R., And Ross, L. (1980). Perseverance of social theories: the role of explanation in the persistence of discredited information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1037 – 1049.
Lilienfield, S. O., & Byron, R., Your Brain on Trial, Scientific American Mind January/February 2013, p47.
Lord, G.C., Ross, L., & Lepper, M.R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarisation; The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2098-2109.
Ross, L., Lepper, M. R., & Hubbard, M. (1975). Perseverance in self perception and social perception: Biased traditional processes in the debriefing paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 817 – 829.
Slusher, M. P., & Anderson, C.A., Belief Perseverance and Self-defeating behaviour, in R. Curtis (Ed), Self-defeating behaviours: clinical impressions and practical implications. New York, Plenum Press, 1989, p11.