“My story is not worth sharing”- I hear that sentence a lot during the communication, leadership, and sales workshops I conduct. I hear that sentence in all geographies and from both men and women, however, more often from women.
NOT FEELING ENOUGH
A few weeks ago, I was running an online training program for young team leaders. One of the first exercises was building and telling a story about an event that changed the person’s point of view, a transformative event. A few people raised hands, and a symphony of “I don’t have…” started. One said: “I don’t have such an event in my life,” the other one added, “My life is regular, there is nothing spectacular to share,” some others followed with “This is so personal, I don’t want to share my personal life in a workspace.” I wasn’t surprised to hear the resistance as it happens pretty often. I was ready to unpack it and curate it.
Firstly, we made some ground rules to create a safe space for this exercise. We would share stories in small groups of max three people, keep the stories in our circle, won’t gossip, judge, nor criticize. That helped to relax the group. When people came back after the storytelling session, the atmosphere in the room changed. I heard from them that opening up and sharing a personal story built an emotional connection, bond, and trust. When they put their guards down, their true selves showed up and shined.
They found out that similar events in peoples’ lives led to different learnings and transformations. It was inspiring and uplifting. We all made a realization that every story is unique, and every story makes an impact.
So why do we fear so much to share personal stories in the workplace?
After ten years of working in the learning and development space, I can say that:
- We fear being judged by others.
- We feel “not enough” (not smart, pretty, adventurous, brave, creative, popular enough, etc.)
- We lack trust and psychological safety in our team, organization.
- Organizational leaders praise “perfection,” vulnerability is not an option.
- Because the human element was never recognized nor awarded in my organization, just the opposite, people with high IQ, the most intelligent people, crunching numbers and reaching quotas at all costs were seen and promoted.
PERSONAL STORYTELLING CONSTITUTES A CULTURE OF INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY
A few years back, I facilitated onboarding training for new hires in a cybersecurity company in London. Nigel, the VP of Sales, strived to create a culture of inclusion, diversity, and collaboration. He encouraged every newcomer to share a story about “Why did they decide to join the company? What is the higher cause they stand for?” and he was genuinely interested to hear their stories.
The story of Nicole, one of the new hires, stood out and impressed me the most.
Nicole was born in Azerbaijan in the early nineties. During that time, her country was in a war zone. Her childhood was not safe nor vibrant. People lived in fear. Luckily her family was able to escape to, and find shelter in Germany. Growing up in Germany, she received much support and mentoring from others. Still, Nicole had to work harder than others to learn the new language, new culture, new norms. She never complained; she was grateful for what she received and wanted to give forward, to help others when she would have a chance. Nicole said that finding a job in cybersecurity is not just making her dream come true; it is making her life mission possible. Her mission is to make the world a safe place, so people like her family never have to live in fear of losing economic safety or being attacked by the bad guys. Her mission resonated so much with everyone in the room. Her conviction and determination made others feel empowered and proud to be a part of the same organization.
A few weeks later, Nicole was invited to join an internal “Diversity Hub” – a global team-building initiative – She was spotted and given an award for her “mission story.”
This is the power of personal storytelling.
EMBRACING YOUR STORY
Personal storytelling requires self-acceptance, embracing who you are and being vulnerable – letting others see you in truth. I am aware that it may be difficult. I know it takes courage and risk to trust others, but I also know that it is worth it, and true leaders take the risk and go first, creating the space for others to share emotions, struggles, and lessons.
How do you find stories that can inspire others?
I have a few ideas for you:
- Take the moment of reflection, look back, and write down the key stepping stones in your career, the moments of bravery and struggle, the moments of hope and despair. What made you change the path, what did you sacrifice, and what did it take to make a step forward.
- Think about people that helped you along the way, your mentors, colleagues, or strangers who empowered you, think about a specific conversation or a quote that impacted you the most.
- Recall the moment in your life when you felt the most fulfilled when you felt you were contributing to the lives of others, you were changing the world, it can be a moment of kindness or a significant endeavor that mobilized crowds.
- This one may not be comfortable, but I encourage you to reflect on some difficult moments in your life. Bring back memories of setbacks, failures, rejections and seek the (positive) lessons that you learned.
As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford Commencement Speech, “You can only connect the dots when you look back”, you can only craft your personal story when you take that moment of reflection and recognize the links between the dots.
PEOPLE FOLLOW PEOPLE THEY TRUST
Mike Bosworth, the founder of Story Seekers, said, “People follow people they trust. Trust is an emotional conclusion that you are a person of competence and character, a person that listens with empathy and builds an emotional bond.”
The Story Seekers framework helps people build and tell the stories that lead others to conclude that they are competent and persons of character. This works for both business stories and personal stories. Make the first step and dare to show who you are. We will help you to craft and tell your story.
Lastly, I want to dedicate to you that quote from James Hollis from his book What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.
“We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being”