Engagement: How To Use One Technique That Many Leaders Forget

Photo by Ildo Frazao/iStock / Getty Images

What is the most under used practice that many leaders forget about?

It's listening. With every leader I coach I find we work on this.  It's not surprising though. Every day I read another post about how leaders need to tell their vision, share corporate values, communicate priorities and strategies, tell about the competition, direct the team, convey their personal brand. It's tell tell tell tell tell tell tell.

The danger is a whole lot of one-directional communication, and there's not a whole lot of listening going on. The danger with this is losing touch with those you serve, losing the hearts of those you lead, losing opportunities to impact change, losing your leadership presence.

What are the financial costs of not listening well and poor communication?

  1. Total estimated costs to companies -- $37 billion/year (misunderstood / misinformed staff on company policies, processes, job function, work priorities, initiatives, or combo of all).
  2. Average cost per company -- $62.4 million/year (400 US/UK companies surveyed with 1000,000 employees)
  3. 60% - 80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships due to ineffective communication, which includes listening

Even if you are a leader who does listens a lot (rare), I bet there's a type of listening that even you are either unaware of, or easily forget.

I'm talking about Appreciative Listening. What?? What the heck is that? It's a powerful type of listening that builds greater connection, trust, loyalty and engagement.

Why? Because this is the type of listening that makes people feel heard the most.

Here is an infographic of the 5 types of listening available to us, and when we usually use them.

5 types of listening Infographic.png

Want to add Appreciative Listening into your leadership skill set? Then follow these steps in the next infographic:

Appreciative listening how to.png

Download both pieces and try out Appreciative Listening. Clients and my MBA students love the results they get. It opens entire worlds for them. They say it's one of the most impactful activities I've shown them and they talk to me about it even years later. 'Gotta love that.

Try it. You'll like it. May you experience far greater engagement, trust, loyalty, better decision making, and deeper more meaningful relationships as a result.


  • Towers Watson, “Capitalizing on Effective Communication,” 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report with International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), 2010
  • Brown, A., Duncan, A., and MacDonald, F. (2003). "Proving Communication Impacts Business Performance", Strategic Communication Management, Vol. 7, No.6, pp 28-33
  • SIS International Research for Siemens Communications, “Communications Pain Study: Uncovering the hidden cost of communications barriers and latency,” (2009)

Dr. Karen Dietz has 20 plus years working with Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits with her unique combination of organizational development, leadership, high performing teams, communication and storytelling expertise.

Karen is an original in the field of business narratives, the author of “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley), a TEDx and Vistage speaker, and has built the world’s largest library of the best business storytelling articles with over 17k followers at https://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it.

Karen has recently turned her skills to developing a similar library for technology leaders on data insights, data storytelling, technology leadership, culture, and high performing teams at https://www.scoop.it/t/tech-leaders.

She’s been around technology organizations for years and her favorite groups to work with are engineers and scientists.

The Big Data Divide And One Solution...

...For Moving The Needle Forward in All 5 Areas of The Data Gap

Below is the infographic on the common areas CIOs say is hindering them from gaining bigger results from big data. Yet there is a single skillset common to all five of these critical areas for technology leaders.

That skill set is narrative. Hard to believe, but true. Narrative is the most effective and efficient pull technology to use to bring positive results in the challenges technology leaders face.

Today’s technology leaders need narrative practices and skills more than ever before to reshape their cultures, be more influential across the organization, and build high performing teams in order to survive and thrive.

Narratives are how we make work meaningful, how we communicate, how we learn best, and how we create our future. Stories build trust, credibility, relationships, teams, and influence.

Now who wouldn’t want to know that?

Now who wouldn’t want to use that?

Here are the steps to take (including narrative practices) to get more traction in each of the five most critical areas that are in the data gap:  

CIO_wht's in the gap.png

1. Analytics skills

75% of CIOs rate their org’s current analytics skills (quality, access, governance, value) as average or below average – insights that drive biz value and the move to digital are compromised, hindered

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Train on different types of business value and how to look for these.
  2. Train on actionable insights – the different kinds of insights to seek, and 3 levels of insights that bring different types of business value.
  3. Train on turning data into knowledge through narrative principles (“Oh, that makes sense.”), then understanding about business opportunities with what currently is (“Oh, here’s new savings or revenue opportunity to what we are already doing.”), then transformation into totally new business opportunities (“Ah ha! Here’s a new business model, new revenue stream, new market, or disruptive product/service!”).
  4. Train on the process of connective inquiry to generate even more smart recombinations of data, mashups, and melding of functions.
  5. Train on data storytelling to help make sense of and communicate insights, business value, and opportunities.

2. Talent

65% of CIOs struggle with attracting & retaining talent; only 17% have the talent they need – a more compelling culture plus tech vision engaging Millennials is lacking

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Build a talent magnet. Stories are a pull technology, bringing people into your sphere of influence. Stories of your organization/work/culture are repeated and spread outside of your presence.
  2. To have this happen, craft and broadcast your 7 Signature Stories that create word-of-mouth marketing:
  • Your Origin story (the story of how your org got started) 
  • People & Results stories (the extraordinary accomplishment your customers achieved because you helped them; how staff saved the day; the extraordinary ways your vendors contribute to your company)
  • Product/Service stories (the backstory of why and how a product/service was created)
  • Why I story (what keeps you/group motivated when the chips are down) Values in Action stories (experiences of how your group lives the company’s values)
  • Lessons Learned stories (Mistakes made, challenges overcome, lessons learned that have made you better, stronger, etc.)
  • The Vision story (stories of when you/group lived your technology or business vision) Leverage your People & Results stories first. Then your Vision story. Follow up with your Values In Action stories.

3. High performance teams/culture

67% of CIOs?say they are NOT effective in creating a high-performance culture – difficulty in meeting the demands for speed and performance with less budget

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Create more psychological safety by learning to deliberately evoke stories from others, while using story listening behaviors. This creates deeper connections and builds trust.
  2. Focus more the different stories and communication topics a team will tell at each stage of Forming, Norming, Storming, Performing. High performing teams and cultures tell lots more stories at a higher frequency than lower performing teams, particularly Lessons Learned stories.
  3. Pay attention and guide storytelling about projects to stoke and keep momentum. This keeps work meaningful.
  4. Share more stories about the impact of people’s work on larger projects, initiatives, goals, corporate values and vision so staff know the impact they are having. This builds pride and engagement.

4. Communication

60% of CIOs say they are NOT effectively communicating the financial impact of IT – once insights are gained, there’s trouble getting funded

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Drop the old “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them” model. It’s ineffective. Keep audiences engaged and share memorable material that stick with effective storytelling.
  2. Design presentations using narrative patterns & influence techniques. Make sure your presentations include real people, a common enemy, the opportunity/the threat, a key message, concrete action steps to take today for realizing tomorrow, an inspiring close.
  3. Lay out the opportunities, along with the consequences of not taking action. Contrast today’s reality with future opportunity, at least 2-3 times during your presentation.
  4. Drop the data dumps. Neuroscience shows that data dumps keep audiences asking for more information, debates are common, and indecision the rule. Learn to weave data and narrative together for maximum impact.

5. Influence

53% of CIOs?say they have trouble influencing stakeholders across the org – difficulty gaining alignment, buy-in, and support

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. See #3 – High performing teams/culture
  2. See #4 -- Communication

If you want to know more about any of these steps, here's how to take action:

  1. Book: “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley)
  2. Event: Tech Leaders workshop on data insights and connective inquiry
  3. Send me a question

Dr. Karen Dietz has 20 plus years working with Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits with her unique combination of organizational development, leadership, high performing teams, communication and storytelling expertise.

Karen is an original in the field of business narratives, the author of “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley), a TEDx and Vistage speaker, and has built the world’s largest library of the best business storytelling articles with over 17k followers at https://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it.

Karen has recently turned her skills to developing a similar library for technology leaders on data insights, data storytelling, technology leadership, culture, and high performing teams at https://www.scoop.it/t/tech-leaders.

She’s been around technology organizations for years and her favorite groups to work with are engineers and scientists.

Hacking Storytelling & Accelerating Your Results

Storytelling shortcuts and workarounds to save you time


Hacking storytelling is soooooooooo important these days. In our fast-paced world who has the time to spend hours and hours on storytelling?

What we all need are quick solutions for building your storytelling. Well, that's why I'm here and that's what we are going to work on -- storytelling hacks to accelerate your storytelling skills.

I've been at this so many years that I can give you simple tasks to build your storytelling competency, leading to personal and business transformation. I've got a ton of them.

But really -- what the heck is a hack or hacking? It's:

Discovering a different path, shortcuts and workarounds, clever or skillful tricks, or innovative twists to existing/outdated technologies, in order to break the code, decipher complexity, influence outcomes, and gain access.

Sounds like just the ticket. 

Let's get real though. Hacking storytelling is great if it leads to transformation. It's terrible if it's only a quick trick that leaves you still in the land of mediocrity or worse. My storytelling hacks build on each other. Together they grow your impact, influence, and ability to inspire others. 

So hacking is part of the journey, not a substitute for it.

You get to work them -- more than once. It's like going to the gym: to build your storytelling muscles you've got to pump iron. Take the hacks I give you and work 'em! LOL, I didn't get to deadlift 200 lbs by sitting on my you-know-what :) And you won't master storytelling if I give you a hack and you just sit on your you-know-what.

So let's get started. What storytelling hacks do you need to begin? I always start story awareness hacks.

Why awareness? Because being aware means you gain first hand experiences, "ah-hah's", or knowledge about storytelling.

It will make you:

  1. much smarter about storytelling
  2. gain lots of clues about what makes a good story
  3. know what works/what doesn't
  4. figure out where storytelling happens
  5. discover what gets in the way of storytelling

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on hacking story awareness that I use all the time with my CEOs and senior executive coaching clients.

With these story awareness hacks you will become aware, cognizant and sensible about storytelling -- far more than most people. You'll gain a big leg up in the storytelling game.

In other words, you are on the alert and starting to crack the storytelling code.

I can yammer at you all day long about being story aware -- OR, you can take each hack, do it, and build your storytelling skills from direct experience. Yahoo!

Comments? Questions? Post below...

Karen
Karen Dietz, PhD, Just Story it

Dr. Karen Dietz has 20 plus years working with Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits with her unique combination of organizational development, leadership, high performing teams, communication and storytelling expertise.

Karen is an original in the field of business narratives, the author of “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley), a TEDx and Vistage speaker, and has built the world’s largest library of the best business storytelling articles with over 17k followers at https://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it.

Karen has recently turned her skills to developing a similar library for technology leaders on data insights, data storytelling, technology leadership, culture, and high performing teams at https://www.scoop.it/t/tech-leaders.

She’s been around technology organizations for years and her favorite groups to work with are engineers and scientists.

The 7 Mind Shifts You Need To Make To Be An Incredible Storyteller and Achieve The Results You Desire

No kidding, story crafting is important. You absolutely do need to know how to craft a compelling story.

But if you don't have your head on straight about business storytelling from the start, all the crafting in the world is not going to make a difference.

So let's talk about the essential mindshifts everyone needs to make about storytelling -- so you CAN craft amazing memorable inspiring stories, so you can knock it out of the park in delivering them, and so you can truly understand how to work with stories in your business to increase engagement, sales, loyalty, trust, and alignment.

Here's the list of the 7 essential mindshifts you need to make:

  1. Storytelling is an experience, not a paint by numbers/fill in the template exercise
  2. Storytelling is pull technology, not a technology pushing messages to folks
  3. Storytelling is about connection, relationships, and transformation and not only about transactions
  4. Story listening is more powerful than storytelling
  5. Storytelling persuades and influences; data and information leads to debates
  6. Storytelling is about conveying images, not memorizing texts
  7. Storytelling is about authentic communication, not about bragging

In this blog, we need to start with #1 -- storytelling is an experience, not a paint by numbers exercise.

I know, I know -- I can hear all my engineers and analytical folks right now saying, "Please please, just give me the structure of a story so I can always craft a good one!" I will. Yet the question that begs to be answered is...what do you want to happen when someone hears your story?

"Oh, I want to inspire someone to make a change, take an action, enroll in my project, etc."

"Oh, I want more engagement and alignment among and between people in my company."

"Oh, I want to attract the perfect clients and talent to my business."

Well, if you want any of that to happen then you need to do a slight pivot away from "give me the story formula" to "help me create a great story experience ". And a formula won't guarantee a fabulous experience for your audience that spurs them to action.

To deliver an experience figure out how you want your audience when you are done.

What's the message you want to deliver at the end?

What experiences can you share with them. Because you see, if you can relive the experience your audience will experience it with you -- in real time while you are telling it.

Don't share about the story -- get back into the actual memory and you'll be golden. You will have delivered an experience, not an artificially engineered story. Yay!

Only after you've laid out the experience you had, then do a few upgrades using story structure and essential elements tools -- just to make sure you didn't leave anything out or missed a weak spot.

Want to get better at storytelling? Always share experiences first. That's the best way to figure out what's working in your stories and what's not because you'll get better reactions from your audience.

Karen Dietz is a veteran in business storytelling, creating stories that inspire, influence and impact the bottom line. She coaches and trains leaders through her Transformational Storytelling System. Wiley published her Business Storytelling for Dummies and she opened the 2013 TEDx Conference San Diego. Clients include: Disney, Princess Cruises, Citrix, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs

Storytelling Hack -- Reverse Engineering

You Start at the end

One kind of story coaching I do is to help former foster youth find their voice and tell their stories. I do this through a local nonprofit, Just In Time For Foster Youth (JIT).

These 18-25 year-old young men and women want to tell their story to:

  1. Help JIT raise funds
  2. Give back to JIT in some way
  3. Find their voice and tell their stories about what they've had to endure in order to make a difference in the world

Now here's the kicker -- to find their story, get it honed, work on their delivery, etc. -- I'm lucky if I get two 2-hour sessions with them for a total of 4 hours. Normally tackling a story that's as big as theirs requires 8 hours minimum, and that means they are using notes. Add more hours for no notes.

Why do I get so little time with them? Because they are working (sometimes 2 jobs), going to school, volunteering, dealing with family, raising kids, traveling hours on public transportation, etc.

In other words, their schedules are totally jammed just like yours.

They need results fast and don't have much time -- just like you.

As a result I've had to find/create storytelling hacks so they can:

  1. Find easy ways to tell their story
  2. Stand and deliver with confidence
  3. Feel great about themselves and their story
  4. Have the audience feel great about them and their story
  5. Inspire listeners to donate, volunteer, or help them in some way

Wow! What a tall order. But we do it. Here's how:

Story Hack #1

Reverse engineer the story

Start from the end and work forward.

Figure out FIRST what your key message is:

  1. What do you want to tell people at the end of your story?
  2. If there is a message -- something you want them to know -- what would that be?
  3. If you could leave them with a piece of wisdom you've learned about your project/your data/teamwork/leadership/life, what would that be?

Don't agonize over this. Just write down either:

  1. The first thought that comes to mind
  2. OR the thought that grabs you the most

What I've learned time and again from storytelling is that the key message typically gets refined anyway -- sometimes even changes completely -- when you fill in the rest of the story.

So don't get all twisted up about this. Just put something down.

Once you have your key message, pick your spot for how you want to start your story.

  1. Is there a place? "So there I was working in Chicago..."
  2. Is there a date? "You know, it was back in 2000 when..."
  3. Is there a person? "My boss came to me the other day..."
  4. Is there a setting? "One day I was sitting at my desk when..."
  5. Is there a project? "We've been digging into this project now for..."

Boom! You've got it. You've got your working key message and your beginning. Now the rest of the story unfolds.

Try this hack out!

Have fun and tell me how it goes.

If these young adults can successfully use this storytelling hack with their stories that deals with abandonment, abuse, trafficking and worse -- you can easily use it to craft your business stories.

More hacks to come for what to do in that mushy middle between the beginning and the end. After that, even more hacks to follow on delivering your story, practicing your story, capturing your story, mining your story, refreshing your story...the list goes on.

Story on!

Just Why DO Stories Bring Me Impact, Influence, & Income??

Inquiring minds want to know

In this post you'll find:

  1. What regularly happens in business today
  2. Who says stories are better
  3. How do stories work on the brain?
  4. Take Action
  5. Use the Building Storytelling Skills Map

By Karen Dietz, Just Story It www.juststoryit.com

Stories are universal. They’ve been around for over 100,000 years. Reading and writing however, has only been around a few hundred years. We think in stories. We talk in stories. We live and die for our stories.

Yet here’s what regularly happens in business

A businessman went to a networking lunch to hear a bigwig CEO talk. The CEO had spent days preparing his presentation which was full of beautiful charts, succinct bullet points, and cool graphics.  When the businessman got home later that day, his wife asked him about it.

            Wife: “Who spoke?”

            Businessman: “Some executive.”

            Wife: “What did he say?”

            Businessman: “Well, he didn’t say.”

Don’t let that happen to you! No one wants to be boring. No one wants to waste anyone's time.  No one wants to miss a slew of golden opportunities.

But in the business world, we do just that. We love to talk numbers or data: financial statements, sales figures, ROI percentages, KPIs, product features, spec sheets -- charts, graphs, bullet points galore! These have their place, but not as the main communication vehicle for communicating value, enhancing your leadership, and getting business done.

We have been taught to both ask for -- and give -- information. So when we present our case, our position, our new idea, or our products/services, we create presentations chock full of informational charts, graphs and bullet points. Snoresville.

But numbers are simply abstractions. And, bullet points are merely summaries. Both only reflect reality. 

Stories however, convey reality.  Stories PULL us into them.  Charts, graphs and bullet points may transmit information, but they don’t necessarily create meaning.  As someone once said, “No one ever marched on Washington because of charts, graphs and bullet points.”

This is the new reality:  storytelling and working with stories is now a core competency for businesses – whether you are an entrepreneur, small business, non-profit, someone looking for a job, or in the Fortune 500. 

Don’t miss countless opportunities to grow your impact, influence, career or business because you couldn’t effectively share stories about what you do, what you offer, or how you make a difference.  And don’t miss countless opportunities to enroll others in your products/services/talents or vision for the future.

Who Says Story is Better?

Kendall Haven in his book Story Proof cites over 350 studies across many different scientific fields.  The conclusion of these studies?  Hands down – stories are the most effective and powerful form of communication.

According to studies reviewed by author Benedict Carey of This Is Your Life And How You Tell It, “People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list.” In fact, they remember them for longer periods of time. In fact, John Medina tells us in his book Brain Rules that retention goes from 10% to 65% when stories and visual images are used. Wow!

It’s been demonstrated over and over again that stories:

  1. Can easily untangle complex information, making it understandable and meaningful 
  2. Capture and hold people’s attention and interest
  3. Connect powerfully with staff and customers
  4. Communicate information faster
  5. Make you or your business more memorable
  6. Cause information to be more believable.
  7. Can establish and strengthen relationships
  8. Builds trust
  9. Establishes authenticity

We are hardwired to think in story form. Stories are more powerful than other forms of communication because they are about emotional experiences. Emotion matters.

How Do Stories Work On The Brain? 

Let’s find out. Read this:

Years ago when the Marshall Field, the owner of the famous department store Marshall Field, was walking through his original story in Chicago, he heard a clerk arguing with a customer. He stopped and asked: "What are you doing?"

The clerk answered, "I'm settling a complaint."

Field said, "No, you're not. Give the lady what she wants."

Now read this:

In general, a customer trigger is a factor or an event that changes the basis of a relationship. Reactional triggers are those critical incidents of deterioration in perceived performance...When something out of the ordinary occurs, such as a decline in performance before purchase, during purchase, or during consumption, it redirects a customer’s attention to evaluate present performance more closely, which may put customers on a switching path.          

Both are about the same principle. But which piece would you rather read? Which is more meaningful and memorable? Why is this? Let's figure it out.

Here’s your brain on data activating only the 2 language centers of the brain (left image) and your brain on story where 7 areas of the brain are activated (right image): 

Here’s what happens when 2 people are story sharing:

Neural Coupling: 2 brains on stories

Neural Coupling: 2 brains on stories

Neuroscientists have now shown us what happens to the brain on stories – they couple or entrain together. This is called neural coupling. During simultaneous brain scans of someone telling a story to a listener, they’ve found that the same areas of the brain light up in both brains.  The only difference between the two brains is that in the listener’s brain, another area of the brain is also being activated – the area of the brain that is anticipating what’s next.

Well-constructed stories engage up to 7 areas of the brain and all of the senses. They are full of packets of sensory material. As a result, because stories are multidimensional and hook into our personal memories/experiences, they frequently are perceived as “more true’” than facts.

It means that storytelling is a whole brain/whole body experience, making it easier to understand, retain, and remember what is being said.

In contrast, sharing information is only a very narrow channel of communication. Left-brain data only reaches the 2 language centers of the brain. That's it. When data or information is shared, our brains have to work really hard to make sure we understanding what is being said, make it meaningful for ourselves, and can remember it. Our brains quickly tire and we often forget most of what we heard.

Used carefully and told well, stories can make a clear difference. Because story conveys our knowledge, values, wisdom; because stories ignite our imagination and create neuro-coupling; because stories generate empathy -- stories create power for people, a business, and in the marketplace. Having the ability to share your powerful stories and then deliver on your promises—now that’s a winning combination!

Take Action

  1. Start listening for stories that others tell. Pay attention to what you like about them and what they inspire you to do or not do.
  2. Notice how you feel when you listen to presentations or conversations that do not contain stories—and what you are able to recall.
  3. Pay attention to how often you insert stories into conversations or presentations and the reactions that you receive from others when they hear them.
  4. Make a list of the stories you tend to tell most frequently.
  5. Notice when you do not use a story and what keeps you from doing so.
  6. What are you inspired you to do more of?
  7. Define two to three action steps for yourself, along with dates for reviewing your activities.

Use The Building StoryTelling Skills Map

How do you build storytelling skills? Here’s your map for building your storytelling skills:

  1. Find Your Stories – Chapter 4 in my book “Business Storytelling For Dummies” on where to find your stories.
  2. Craft Your Stories – what stories do I need to tell in my work?
  3. Hone Your Stories & How You Deliver Them – learn how to tell your stories in compelling ways that move people to action (the kinds of stories we want in business). Practice delivering them so you can tell them really well.
  4. Apply Your Stories to your business
  5. Renew Your stories – so they stay fresh
  6. Mine Your Stories – for multiple meanings, metaphors, key messages, & ways to tell them

Now get out there and story on!

Karen

Interview with Nike's Chief Storyteller Nelson Farris

Storytelling  in marketing/branding is all the rage. And Nike does a fabulous job at that.

But how else do they work with stories internally to ensure success? Well, my 30 minute podcast with Nike's Chief Storyteller and Sr. Director of Global HR Talent Development brings to light some of their practices and story philosophy.

If you are an entrepreneur, manager, corporate exec, or nonprofit, Farris' insights can apply to you.

Grab this podcast and continue to leverage the heck out of storytelling for your business.

LISTEN HERE