Aggressive Listening & Storytelling Through Data

Engage employees at your company at every level by incorporating storytelling.  Open meetings with a personal story that ties to the topic and use that story as a jumping off point for engagement and feedback.  When done well, you can use stories to generate interest, make connections and stimulate reflection.

Here are some ways to get started:

1. Be a role model. The first step to bringing storytelling culture to your organization is, simply, get people comfortable telling stories. You go first.

2. Ask good questions. You need to ask the right question to get the right story from people—the story that will get them to think or give you the information you are seeking.

3. Incorporate aggressive listening and break out of old conversation patterns. An unenthusiastic listener will shut down a storyteller, breaking connection and possibly keep them from telling you vital information. This is why it’s so important to prioritize aggressive listening.

Aggressive listening strategies like engaged body language (leaning forward, cupping your chin, eye contact, and others), asking clarifying questions, and paraphrasing what you’re told all send a message of validation and encourage others to keep sharing.

Go deeper and tell stories with data

Numbers don’t lie—but sometimes they can be made to fib. A chart or spreadsheet on its own is dangerous because there is no context. Yet words without evidence are just an opinion. Put them together in a collaborative setting, however, and you get the best possible paradigm: data storytelling.

Data storytelling is not the same thing as data visualization. Visualization does not explain change, describe implications, or remove opportunities for misinterpretation.  Data storytelling combines data, which stimulates thinking, with the power of stories to convey the message, stimulate action and inspire resolve.

When looking at data storytelling, remember to:

– Incorporate different backgrounds into the narrative to provide perspective and help to build the consensus that is so important to those who make the final decisions.

– Tell the story with balance. Don’t provide too much data, or too little. Stop when the case is made, without embellishment or repetition.

– Make the audience feel something. If the presentation connects with the recipients’ pain points—financial, sales, production, whatever—they will pay attention to what’s being said.

As neurologist and teacher Judy Willis wrote for Edutopia: “The structure of narrative forms a mental map onto which new information can be laid. When that new information, whether from algebra or history, is presented in the familiar narrative form, the memory structure facilitates the brain’s retention of that information.”

Our simple hack for structuring a narrative is the IRS, which you can use in any setting.  It stands for Intriguing beginning, Riveting middle, and Satisfying end.

At the heart of leadership lies persuasion. At the heart of persuasion lies storytelling. Leaders trained in storytelling have the tools to win support and enthusiasm for their projects and initiatives.

From Forbes’ Contributor Esther Choy & Yellowfin’s Tony Prysten