Empowerment number four is really a fun one for me. As part of my work I do mediation and facilitation. I get called into conference rooms where I get yelled at. I’ve learned not to take it personally. I know it’s not me, I’m just hired to go into contentious situations. I can tell you anytime I pick up my phone, and I’ll have a client say, “Oh, my God, there’s a huge problem.” I’ll say, how are you doing? Because I can tell they are freaked out. Then I tell them that the giant problem they just told me about was a really good story. Because really, what we are designed to do as human beings is tell really good fish stories.
Is anyone reading this a fisherman? My family and I love to fish. I do it all the time. So how many of you have ever had the fish get just a little bit bigger as you tell a story? Our brains naturally create drama. In fact, until we had pen and paper, our entire culture was transmitted through oral tradition. So, it is no surprise that when anything happens that’s dramatic, we tell a really good story. We may even think the story is completely true.
One of the things to realize about your very human mind is that it naturally embellishes. You can probably think of instances where people you know have embellished their stories. You can probably think of some very famous people who have been busted for embellishing their stories, right?
This was interesting to me when it happened, because I always watch these things closely since I work in this business. I gave a talk that was brand new content, I had never presented it before. I was very nervous, and not yet completely comfortable with the material. I told two stories within the presentation, and I had my videographers filming it. When I watched it back, I was fascinated that in both stories, I told several facts wrong. I decided to axe the footage and not use it at all. I understand that I don’t need to be Brian Williams famous to know not to do that, right?
It was interesting to me that I actually told the story. In one of the stories I had swapped the name of a person and I thought to myself that if my client watched the footage back, they’d be very mad that I’d done that. And it was a really good story. I had another instance in telling the story where I’d discombobulated something and mixed up some details. Our minds will automatically do this, no matter how hard we try to train them.
The empowerment here is called defining your story versus what happened.
Whenever someone has a story and an upset, you’re going to write the whole thing out. When you’re in a group of people at work and you’ve got a big crisis, you will write it out. I get hired to come into organizations and do just this. We put it all out on the whiteboard or the paper or the butcher paper sheets. We get the mess of it all out there in black and white, and then we look at the details in that story. We review the information and circle what is data, and weed out what are opinions, judgments, hearsay, and gossip. All of those details come off the board. What we’re left with is only data – the things that are validated and proven. These are the things we can take action on.
What this process allows you to do is take action on what is real, instead of doing damage control on what somebody thinks. People’s views and opinions are very unreliable spaces in which to solve crises. You will become master crisis manager using this approach. You’ll eventually begin to hear a story and be able to start immediately separating the facts from everything else. You’ll know how to take action and get the problem under control. When you master this, you’ll see that it works and that it will work greatly for your career.