by Lisa Jackson, NLP Master Practitioner
One of my favorite tools in the NLP toolkit is the use of metaphor — especially “teaching stories.” Stories are universally powerful teaching elements because they create a sense of possibility. They are also vastly under-utilized in the world of business. Too often, leaders over-focus on the dry stuff – financials and statistics – and not enough on what inspires people’s hearts and emotions.
In the leaders I work with, this is one of their biggest lessons: If you want to create aligned action toward a desired future (even something as simple as “getting the product launch on time”) you gain traction faster if you create a simple story of your vision, and tell it over and over again (in different versions). Imagine addressing 5-year-olds and it’s your job to entertain them. Your team honestly is not that different than this audience in terms of what engages them (with a better attention span, education and manners, usually) – they are still inspired by stories! We once worked with a senior executive at a Fortune 10 company who began every meeting with a Rumi poem, and the group would discuss what it meant before starting a meeting. Bringing an aesthetic quality to meetings is a good thing.
So go ahead, start telling stories. Watch the magic happen.
Below are five powerful stories I collected in my “inspiration file” somewhere in my travels. (if you are individual who wrote them, please post a “Comment” in the blog so I can properly credit you in person).
I hope you enjoy them, pass them on to people who will enjoy them, and use them in your work and life.
Five Great Stories
1. Most Important Question
During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.
2. Pickup in the Rain
One night, at 11:30 PM, an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help. This was generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxi cab. She seemed to be in a big hurry! She wrote down his address, thanked him and drove away. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.” Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole
3. Always Remember Those Who Serve
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is an ice cream sundae?” “Fifty cents,” replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it. “How much is a dish of plain ice cream?” he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she said brusquely. The little boy again counted the coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and departed. When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies – her tip.
4. The Obstacle in Our Path
In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many others never understand: Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one’s condition.
5. Giving Blood
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying,”Yes, I’ll do it if it will save Liz.” As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?” Being young, the boy had misunderstood the doctor. He thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood.
I was literally in tears by the end of reading these. I hope they have touched you and brightened your day.
Life is short. Be sure to love well. –Unknown
Lisa Jackson is an executive coach and partner to executives seeking methods to build change-friendly and adaptive organizations. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free version of her “executive story-building” or visit www.jacksonandschmidt.com/
The power of story to transform (metaphor) is one of the greatest understandings from NLP. It is a fundamental part of our Practitioner Training in both the Immersion program and the Living Encyclopedia (distance learning format). It’s that subtle, engaging ability to deliver direction, meaning, change, and motivation in just a conversation, without a formal setting or relationship. You can find resources to help you tell magic yourself in the Metaphors section of our bookstore.
Free Book: A few years ago Steve Andreas, our founder, published a collection of stories like these in “Is There Life Before Death?“
This week, while supplies last, you’ll get a free copy of the hardback edition with each order from our Metaphor section. Just add the book to your cart and the coupon code “Meta” at checkout!