The book “Business Storytelling from Hype to Hack: Unlock the Software of the Mind” by Jyoti Guptara is a guide to understanding and using your ultimate communications hack.
How do you get heard or even noticed in an age of information overload? Storytelling is the answer to many of today’s business challenges. But why do stories work? How can they work for you? In this handy guide, executive coach Jyoti Guptara distills 15 years of his experience so you can quickly master the #1 business skill.
Drawing on insights from neuroscience and using everyday examples, Guptara reveals how storytelling is a brain hack and shows how to “hack” seven key areas of communication, from small talk and self-development to getting people to buy in to a vision, idea, or strategy.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Building trust doesn’t have to take months or years. By employing what researcher Brené Brown calls ‘socially appropriate vulnerability’, we can quickly connect with people at a level that makes them feel they know us – and hence trust us.
Why do we care about characters in books and movies? Even the bad ones? Simply put: Because we know them. We know where they come from, what they want, and why they want it. We’ve seen them struggle against the odds, and we’re cheering them on to success – or willing them to stop before they run into disaster. In the same way, when we tell personal stories well, people start to know and hence care about us. In an age of fake news and AI, the importance of authenticity and perceived trustworthiness will only increase.
Describing the house your grandparents lived in and the misadventures you got up to there may not seem to be directly relevant to your meeting . . . but by establishing or deepening a bond it is.
Messenger before Message
Before you can hope for your message to connect, you must, as the messenger, first establish connection with an audience. Otherwise you’ll be talking to air. No matter the medium, messenger always comes before message. In war, you better see that white flag, or the soldier marching towards you is simply another enemy combatant. If we suspect an email is from a suspect source, we won’t open it. And yet it is remarkable how often seasoned business professionals will overlook what is an obvious daily reality: Before people receive your message, they must first receive you.
Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy and colleagues have been researching first impressions for over a decade. They have identified two questions foremost in people’s minds when they first encounter someone. One: ‘Can I trust this person?’ And two: ‘Can I respect this person?’ Significantly, the study found that even in a business context, trustworthiness was more important than competence. After all, it doesn’t matter how educated and intelligent someone is if they’re going to steal your money.
Initial trust, that important foot in the door for any new interaction and relationship, is a fundamentally irrational thing. Which makes it the ideal time for storytelling.
If storytelling is one of the differentiators between us and animals, why do we hesitate to use it in business? Perhaps, ironically, it is because of the other thing that makes us human: rationality. Because we think we’re a rational species, we try to convince each other in as rational a way as possible, avoiding anecdotes and emotion in an attempt to appear trustworthy. Ironically, this often backfires. Attempting to win trust with arguments is hard work, because trust is a feeling. It is logical, then, that connecting on an emotional level is the better route.
With their pattern of cause and effect, stories do appeal to our rational side too. Stories address us not just as intelligences but as people, honouring sentience and sensibility.
My aforementioned senior banker client used to work with Jürg Zeltner, then President of UBS Wealth Management with over two trillion in assets. How did Zeltner get ultra-high-net-worth individuals to trust him with their money? He told them a story. When meeting with the world’s richest clients, he told them that he actually comes from the countryside. There, people’s trust would only have been secured if you were allowed to sit at their kitchen table. That’s where the really important decisions are made. With this little story, Zeltner was able to convince super rich people from other countries such as China to trust him with their assets.
After telling this story to his own clients while on the frontline, Zeltner later used it as a metaphor to explain to his employees that they only really have the trust of customers when they’re offered a seat at the kitchen table. The personal story told to sway ultra-high-net-worth individuals was now used to teach other wealth managers, modelling a mind-set. This was the approach that in 2015 got him awarded second place among the ten best global private banking CEOs of the year. Zeltner was my client’s favourite boss. His townhall meetings always took place without slides and he always spoke freely. On reflection, my client says, Zeltner was his favourite boss because he was among other things an outstanding storyteller. Stories such as the above can help you be received as a messenger – by ultra-high-net-worth individuals and by colleagues – so that your message is also received.