I had a speaking engagement on the West Coast last week. The topic was Threshold Story™—a method of storytelling used to engender trust and demonstrate value when a business service provider meets a new prospect, team member, or returning client.
The professionals attending my lecture were a bit guarded. They’d never met me before and probably didn’t feel the need to be authentic, or “real,” in my presence. Their personalities reflected an adapted “self” or “work self”—a version of the true self that gets masked by role expectation.
Why do we act this way? I wondered. Is there any “room” for self at work?
I believe there is. I also believe most professionals are actually yearning to be self-expressive—to be who they really are—and that creativity and the freedoms associated in being true to the self creates confidence and connections. After offering these West Coast professionals some guidance and an introduction to storying systems, these professionals were soon on their way to story development—shaping and masterful episodic tale-telling.
Significant work changes and role shifts seem to heighten consciousness with respect to our personal identities at work. Reshaping personal identity is process of re-contouring our true self—a process complicated by work variables that become more complicated the more as we try to express our “new” work self to “new” people in the best light. The strain of stabilizing one’s work-role identity seems to be even further amplified since so much of our waking time is allocated to work in our current society. For a time, I wondered whether this was a phenomenon of “story reluctance” at play because of all of these “identity” factors? Was something else at play as well?
The Threshold Story™ is often told by a person when he or she crosses the “threshold” into a new relationship (or returns to a past relationship). This method of storytelling conveys the person’s current self-identity. It conveys relevant life fragments that generate understanding or empathy from the audience—whether its one person or several others—who validate the storyteller’s shared experience by more quickly accepting this person into the organization, social group or team. The Threshold Story™ is the way a new team member gets integrated into his or her new environment. It may foster richer dialogue with new persons and may even inspire others to retell your story.
In thinking about why and how we’ve moved away from storying despite it being native to our being, I can’t help remembering about how my son, Alex, and daughter, Abby, naturally storied their first experiences —whether it was seeing a farm tractor in the field or feeding a young horse a carrot at their grandmother’s home. I wonder when we’re stripped of our natural story-telling abilities? Is our society so tasky and command-and-control in schools that we support the only speak when spoken to mindset? Do children learn to suppress storying to recess and rare moments with their grandparents?
Sadly, we’re becoming a society that supports isolation. The disappearance of storying as a discipline fades as we become indoctrinated into our professional lives—from the cubing off of work spaces to the ways in which meetings are administered. Where have our stories gone?
Storytelling is a discipline. It is also a practice—a practice that helps connect and create vibrant threads or plotlines. Language is powerful in narrative form.
In an effort to revive this dying art, I invite you to
1.) Consider your own personal experiences and how a moment of storying helped you feel “at home” at work because it allowed you to unveil your true self (maybe you will feel unexpected freedom or creativity);
2.) Support story formation and personal storying in your workplace to enhance daily communicaiton (storytelling is, after all, quite natural to us all).
Learn to create story “pull”—or draw—over time that helps make a point, showcase your organization’s value, express creativity, and even engage more human beings in our natural style of reaching out to one another. If we become more conscious of story’s role in our lives, we can begin to see the structure that leads to patterns ultimately causing events that are desirable in our lives.