Random thoughts on anecdotes

Posted by  Mark Schenk —September 16, 2009
Filed in Anecdotes

Here are some thoughts/experiences from last week regarding anecdotes, how to elicit them and story-telling

  • Last Wednesday I listened to Alana, an Aboriginal lady, tell a traditional teaching story and we chatted afterwards. In organisations we generally see stories morph over time, with details changing but much of the meaning being retained. Alana explained that this is not what happens with traditional aboriginal stories. She had been given permission to tell the story with the strict understanding that she would re-tell the story precisely as it had been told to her. By insisting on the exact reproduction of the story the meaning is much less likely to change over time and in this way knowledge can be passed faithfully from generation to generation.
  • Shawn and I have the general view that ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions will normally elicit opinions and generalisations rather than anecdotes. ‘When’ and ‘where’ questions are generally better at generating experiences. Also on Wednesday, I heard a ‘how’ question that is fantastic to get anecdotes: ‘How did you meet Grandma?’ The great thing about this question is that it takes you to a very specific event and it can’t help but result in an anecdote (unless Grandpa is in a grumpy mood).

A lady told me how she had been nearly hit by a Sydney Buses bus as she was on a roundabout. Instead of indicating he had made a mistake, the driver made a gesture that she interpreted as “tough cookies”. Furious, she took down the bus number and by 4.30 that afternoon had sent an email to Sydney Buses complaining. By 9.30am the next day she had a response confirming that they expected high standards of driving behaviour and that the incident she described was unacceptable. They had identified the driver and organised to meet with him that day discuss the matter. She spoke very highly of Sydney Buses as a result, thought they were doing a good job. It goes to show, anger dissipates when people are listened to…

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

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