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Four Techniques for Drawing Business Stories Out of Others – Part 2


The Catalyst Story


In the last post, we talked about the Business Story Producer which is a method to get people to start sharing business stories.  As part of the steps, you, as the person facilitating the group, should tell a Catalyst Story to activate the business story sharing.


Rather than mechanically running through the steps, let’s start with a Catalyst Story, then break down what makes for a good Catalyst Story.


Audiences Can Relate to Experiences Where You're New to a Job

My first professional experience was as an ensign in the Navy.  For those not familiar with US Navy ranks, an ensign is the lowest ranking of all officer ranks.  When you see someone with one gold bar, you know they’re a newbie, green, don’t know a lot.

As an ensign, that was me.  I had a lot to learn!

I was the information security officer for my command which meant that all classified information came through me and was kept by me in a huge metal safe.

If you’ve watched any shows with military intelligence, you can probably deduce that classified material from a government perspective hasn’t anything to do with credit card or personal information.  When we talk about classified information we mean material which is of a sensitive nature relative to national security interests of the United States government.

One day, I received a classified piece of correspondence marked “Confidential.”  But when I looked at the document, while the information was sensitive in nature – it had to do with personal financial problems a person assigned to the command was having – it clearly did not reach the threshold of being sensitive to national security interests.

I looked at the originator of the correspondence and it was a captain.  Remember how an ensign was the first and lowest rank.  Well a captain is the 6th highest rank – the only thing higher than a captain in the Navy is an admiral.  Captain are bosses of entire ships and entire commands.  Captains are a big deal.

I knew I was right about this email not needing to be classified, but I wasn’t sure what was I going to do about it.  A captain had said it was classified.  I would that he should know better.  But still just I knew it shouldn’t be.  And by treating it as classified information, it would interfere with getting the information to the right people using proper channels, etc.

I thought I knew what I should do.  I should contact to the captain who sent the message and tell him he needed to declassify the correspondence.  But would a captain listen?  Was I sure I was right?  Would I get in trouble for correcting a captain?   I wasn’t sure what I should do.

So what did I do?  Nothing.  For about two weeks, I didn’t do anything at all.  And every time I thought about the correspondence sitting in my safe, I got a sick feeling in my gut.  And of course, the longer I waited, the worse I that sick feeling got.  For each day that passed, I felt I was making it worse and would get into even more trouble because I hadn’t acted.

Finally, I went to my boss Commander Jones, and told him that I’d been sitting on this correspondence and asked him what I should do.

Commander Jones said, “Ensign Vandever, there are two kinds of sins.  The sin of commission and the sin of omission.

The sin of commission is doing the wrong thing.

The sin of omission is doing nothing.

As a junior officer, you can’t commit the sin of commission.  We expect that you’re still learning, you’ll make the mistakes.  You can’t do the wrong thing.

The only sin you can commit is the sin of omission doing nothing.

Make a decision Ensign Vandever.  Do something.”

So I finally did something.  I contacted the captain who sent the message and requested that he declassify the message.  He did.  It turned out to be no big deal.

What was a big deal was the lesson that Commander Jones had taught me.  Essentially, Commander Jones gave me permission to take the initiative and act on my own accord.  He let me know that it would be OK if I made mistakes, that I’d survive the mistakes.  The important thing was to act.

That lesson stayed with me long after I ceased being a junior officer.

So let’s break down the elements that make this a good catalyst story.


#1 – A Good Catalyst Story Is a Personal Story

You should not tell my story above as your catalyst story.  This story works because it’s my story and I relive it when I tell it.  If you want your leaders and subject matter experts to open up, give them a chance to know you as a person.  This will help facilitate trust.  (More on that in future posts.)  Review your life and look for a personal story or a story that happened to someone you actually know who told you the story.


#2 – You’re Not the Hero of the Catalyst Story

There are two things I mean by “You” not being the hero of the Catalyst Story.

First, someone else is the hero.  Someone else comes up with the solution or creates the wisdom within the story.

If you can, and if you’re telling a personal story, tell a story where you don’t look so good.  Be willing to be vulnerable with your audience.

By you not being the hero and/or by being willing to be vulnerable, you garner further trust and you demonstrate to the audience that it’s OK for them to be vulnerable too.

Your not being the hero also helps you be more approachable and relatable as you facilitate the exercise.


#3 – The Catalyst Story Makes a Point

The story needs to make a point.  If you just tell a story for the sake of telling a story, you risk the audience spending mental time and energy trying to decipher why you told the story you told, instead of focusing on telling their own stories.  Make sure your story makes a point.


#4 – The Catalyst Story Is Relatable

A good catalyst stories have one or more places where listener can hook into their own memories.  The point of the story is one possible hook, if they agree or even if they disagree with the point.  If you display vulnerability, that can also serve as a hook.  Your mistakes give the audience a chance to think of their own mistakes which helps them recall their own stories.  Being new to a job is something we can all relate to.  Look for aspects of your story that can make it relatable to the lives of others.


Test Out Your Catalyst Story

Once you find a story that you think meets these criteria, try out your Catalyst Story to see if it gets people thinking about other examples from their own lives.

Either explain to colleagues what you’re doing and ask if they’d be willing to listen to their story and see what it makes them think of from their own work lives.  Or just test it out in natural conversation when you have a chance.  See if others tell you a related story from their own lives.

Wrapping Up the Business Story Producer

So between this post and the last, you have a technique you can now use to help draw business stories out of business leaders and subject matter experts in your organization.

Write me and let me know how it goes!  Drop a note below and share your results!

Or if you need help, contact me at 770-597-1108 or Kelly. Vandever @ SpeakingPractically.com  and I’d be happy to help facilitate the process in your organization.


More Techniques for Drawing Out Business Stories

In the next few posts, we’ll look at other methods for drawing business stories out of your leaders and subject matter experts.