Healthy organizations communicate well orally and in writing. This means that communications are clear. They are devoid of dissembling, hedging, and mushy language. They are straightforward and to the point. They are pithy and targeted. They are not buttressed by hedged words that dodge responsibility. They are logical. Everyone gets it. Everyone doesn’t necessarily agree, but they understand. Clear communications serve as the essential basis for efficient and effective decision-making. They speak for something, and are backed up with reasons. They tell a story. They often persuade. Clear communication is an organizational skill. It needs to be learned, reinforced, and practiced. Effective organizations are clear first; persuasive second. Persuasiveness is a derivative of clarity. Be clear, or you ain’t got a chance. Visit Storyville™ for Grease’s proprietary 19-step tutorial on communications clarity through storytelling
When speaking or writing to each other, suppliers, and customers, always tell a story. Why tell a story? Stories engage. We all learn from stories. Stories get our attention. We are a culture attuned to stories as a way to think about situations, problems, courses of action. Stories have a logical sequence, which mirrors how we think. Books, newspapers, movies, magazines, periodicals, business reports, sales proposals are most effective when they tell a story. Remember, “effective” means “everyone gets it.” All stories have an essential element that commands our attention, and without which our attention wanes. We cease to be interested. We stop listening. This element is conflict, tension. The resolution of this conflict is what keeps our interest. We stay engaged because we want to find out what happens or where this is heading. We try to persuade our colleagues, bosses, customers, or family without a story at our peril.
All stories have a basic three-part structure: Platform-Problem-Proposal (3P’s), Situation-Obstacle-Solution (SOS), Situation-Complication-Recommendation, Current Situation-Problem-Resolution (CPR). All stories start with something non-controversial on which both you and the listener agree. Think: “once upon a time…..” or “as you know.” Find this common denominator in the conversation. Never start with what you want the listener to do.
If they are worth their salt, all compelling stories have a problem, a point of friction or tension, a villain, which is the reason why listeners listen, keep reading, keep watching. All interesting stories are like this. They have a problem, some difficulty, a threat, a “bad guy” such that the listener is willing to hang in there to learn the ending. No villain, no story. Think Iago in Othello, Jack Wilson in Shane, the Germans in Casablanca, Blue Duck in Lonesome Dove, and Bates in jail for murder in Downton Abbey.
Eliminate the villain and you have Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs without the bad queen. Without the problem, people disengage, stop reading, or walk out of the movie. It’s like a power point presentation at 3PM rendered lifeless with long lists of nouns. Customers yawn, and say: “that’s interesting.” Before you start or respond: stop, think, organize and propose (S.T.O.P!).
All stories have an ending, a denouement, a solution. Why else do we as listeners sit there? Because we want to find out what happens or what you want. Whatever it is you want, you must give reasons, no more than seven, and all must be different, and you must list them all. From the listener’s perspective, reasons are followed by answering the question: “So, what’s in it for me.” If it’s a tough request, ask the listener to “consider” it rather than do it. Listeners will “consider” almost anything. Any call to action, once asked, should be followed by silence so that the listener may respond, no matter how long it takes.
So, what about diction? What does dissembling, wimpy language look like? It looks like safe phrases that don’t answer the question such as: “it’s my understanding,” “sources tell me,” “mistakes were made,” “it seems,” “it may or may not.” Beware of answers that don’t answer. They masquerade as answers, but they aren’t. They are process pretending to be content.
Remember: Storytelling is a skill. It is essential in business because it ensures that customers listen. If you want to engage customers, colleagues, or spouses, tell them a story. All nations and cultures are “wired” to listen to stories. As the Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe , said in his seminal novel, Things Fall Apart, “all stories are true,” which is taken to mean that all stories engage. From Seven Days in May, “I’m going to tell you the damnedest story you ever heard…..”