Episode 176: How to use stories to elevate your career – with Karen Eber

Stories are a powerful tool, they can make your message more impactful and more memorable. 

So how can you use stories to help your career? 

What can stories do for you in an appraisal, interview or a negotiation for a pay rise?

Karen Eber is an author, leadership consultant and keynote speaker, well known for her TED Talk on how your brain responds to stories.  

She explains why storytelling is such a powerful tool, what makes stories memorable, and the ways you can use stories to advance your career. 

She also talks about the different techniques you can use to make your story more impactful, how to use stories to improve the way people see you at work, and how to improve communication with your manager. 

Today’s guest

Karen Eber

Website: Karen Eber 

Twitter: Karen Eber

LinkedIn: Karen Eber

Instagram: Karen Eber

Karen Eber is an author, leadership consultant and keynote speaker.  Her TED Talk on how your brain responds to stories continues to inspire millions.  Her book The Perfect Story: How to Tell Stories That Inform, Influence, and Inspire was selected as a Next Big Ideas Club must read.

As the CEO and Chief Storyteller of Eber Leadership Group, Karen helps Fortune 500 companies like GE and Microsoft build leaders, teams and culture, one story at a time. 

Karen guest lectures at universities including MIT and Stanford.  She is a former Head of Culture, Learning and Leadership Development at GE and Deloitte and is a frequent contributor to media including Fast Company and Business Insider.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • [2:10] How Karen found her love for storytelling. 
  • [6:12] The benefits for employees using stories at work and why storytelling is a powerful tool. 
  • [9:34] The science behind how storytelling works. 
  • [11:47] A case study of how stories can be used to advance your career. 
  • [16:48] The benefits and drawbacks of using the STAR formula. 
  • [18:00] How to tell an impactful story in a professional setting. 
  • [19:15] How to make what you say about yourself memorable. 
  • [21:31] Why you should ask questions in your performance review. 
  • [25:20] How the conversations you have in a performance review affects your rating. 
  • [28:21] Ways to get your manager to be better at communicating. 
  • [29:28] How to use stories to improve the way people see you at work. 
  • [32:05] Different storytelling techniques and how to interact with different departments. 
  • [35:10] How to transition to a different department in your company. 
  • [36:35] Techniques to make your story more impactful. 
  • [39:50] A four-part storytelling model. 
  • [41:53] The benefits of having your own bank of stories. 

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

Episode 176: How to use stories to elevate your career - with Karen Eber

Jeremy Cline 0:00
Once upon a time... People have been telling you stories since you were a baby, and you've probably told lots of stories yourself. But how can you use stories to help your career? What can a story do for you in an appraisal, in an interview, in a negotiation for a pay rise? That's what we're going to find out in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:39
Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the podcast where we're all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. If you want to know how you can enjoy a more satisfying and fulfilling working life, you're in the right place. One afternoon last summer, I was sitting at my computer, trawling through the accumulated massive emails I had received from publicists to pitch their clients as guests on this podcast. And boy, was there a lot of irrelevant dross. I was about to give up, and then I opened an email about this week's guest. And suddenly, my attention was grabbed. Stories. I love stories. And the promise in this email was a conversation about how you can use stories at work, and how they can even help you to unlock your potential. I had to have her on the show. Okay, that wasn't the best story in the world, but I'm delighted to welcome this week's guest, Karen Eber. Karen is an author, leadership consultant, and keynote speaker. Her TED Talk explains how your brain responds to stories. And she works with companies like GE and Microsoft to build leaders, teams and culture one story at a time. Karen, welcome to the podcast.

Karen Eber 1:51
Thank you. I'm delighted to be here. And I actually think that's a fantastic story, because it brought us together. So, win for me.

Jeremy Cline 1:58
We read stories to our kids, we tell stories to our friends, we watch stories on TV. What is it about stories that you find so compelling? And how did you get so interested in them?

Karen Eber 2:10
I got my start with storytelling at a very young age. I have a brown eye and a green eye, and it is something I've always loved about myself. I feel like we each have something about ourselves that makes us feel different and special. And for me, this was my eyes. But as much as I'd love them, I really quickly realised most people didn't know what to make of them. I'd be in conversation, and I could see someone's eyes switching back and forth between mine, almost like their brain is trying to decide, 'Do we look at the brown one, or the green one, or the brown one, or the green one?' And their words would slow, and they would come to a stop, and I knew what was coming, because it was the same every single time. They would usually say, 'Do you know you have two different colour eyes?' To which I typically responded with, 'No! Like, of course I know.' And then, they would start this list of questions. Like what colour of eyes does your mom have, or your Dad? Do you see different colours out of each eye? Do your eyes give you special powers? And these conversations just went in a really insane direction of, we're having a normal conversation, and now you're asking me if my eyes give me superpowers. And this thing that I loved, that made me feel special, became a burden, because now I was no longer a person, I was a thing. People would be calling others over, and they'd all be trying to take a look at my eyes. And it's like I wasn't even a human anymore. One day, I was tired of it. I was frustrated. So, I told this story. I said that I was born with brown eyes. And around age four, I was in my room colouring, dinner wasn't going to be for a few more hours, and I was getting hungry. And you know that box that we all had as a child that you would throw crayons into, like the broken ones, the peeled ones, the perfect ones. For me, that was a cigar box. And I reached into it and pulled out a green crayon. And it didn't really smell like anything, but I took a taste, and I really found the texture interesting. So, I ate it. And then, I ate another green crayon, and I ate another green crayon and another green crayon, until all the green crayons in the box were gone. And the next day I woke up, and my left eye was green. And then, I would be quiet. And people would look at me, not sure how to respond. You could tell their brain was trying to work out. Is she for real? Logic tells me there's no way her eyes changed colours because of a crayon, but she said it with such a straight face. And I would let them off the hook, and we would laugh, and I would say, 'Of course, my eyes didn't change colours because of crayons.' But it created the shift in energy. And so, I went back to being a person again, and more importantly, we have this connection I felt like we never would have had without that story. And so, I recognised really young, stories aren't just going to entertain. They're a way to create connection even in really artificial circumstances. So, throughout my career, I've been a head of culture and business in General Electric, a chief learning officer, I had a leadership development, and I was always in these positions where I was trying to persuade people that had funding to make investments and technology and programmes. And one person could say yes, but 99 people could say no and stop everything. And I found stories were the way to connect and help the 99 to be on my side. When I was a head of culture, I was leading a business that had 90,000 employees in 150 countries. The only way you were going to help shape culture is to have each of those people think about, 'What does this mean for me, and what do I want to do?' And I found stories were the way to connect to each person and help them think about what something meant and what they wanted to do. So, it's been woven throughout my life in many ways, but it's definitely been something that I think can be a really dynamic communication tool.

Jeremy Cline 5:59
So, I'm guessing that there's probably very few people who have thought about using stories at work as an employee. So, for anyone who's going, 'Huh!?', can you just introduce the concept?

Karen Eber 6:12
If you think about any meeting that we sit in at work, in person or virtual, maybe someone's going row by row through data in Excel, or you're listening to a presentation, the moment you walk out of that meeting, you remember maybe 50%, and an hour later, you're struggling to remember more. I feel like attention is the most important thing people can give us. And when you are just communicating information, and you're not having the person interact with it, you are risking them not understanding it, having their own interpretation, or just completely forgetting it or tuning out. And stories are a much more dynamic way to engage the brain, to influence thinking, to inspire action. And so, it's not this soft skill, it's a really important way for people to be able to communicate and help people move forward in their roles.

Jeremy Cline 7:07
As we speak, I'm giving some training at work tomorrow, and I'm now thinking, 'Well, I'm basically just imparting information. I wonder how I can weave a story into that?' So, I might have to give that some thought.

Karen Eber 7:18
Think of it like the story is the Velcro, and what information you're wrapping around the story is going to stick better, it's going to be understood, and you're going to come away it in a much more dynamic way. When you're just sharing information, maybe you're running through a chart of data, or you're just talking at people, this walnut sized part of your brain called Wernicke's area is activated. It's right above your ear. And it's truly language comprehension. You hear or read words, you see them, and your brain says, 'Yes, we understand this, or no, we don't.' And it's understood. And this is happening milliseconds at a time. And that's it. That's what's happening when someone's talking at you. But if you start telling a story, so let's say I'm talking about walking on the beach, and I feel the warm sand between my toes as I'm walking forward, the waves are crashing on shore, almost like a cymbal crash. And you can almost taste the salty air on your lips. Now, your brain starts lining up much more dynamically. So, we go from this walnut sized part of your brain to engaging so much more and having you feel like you are walking on the beach, although it is clearly not the setting where we're at the beach today. So, when you start using stories, they really become almost this artificial reality for the listener, even if they have never had the experience before. It allows for them to imagine what would they do in this situation. So, one of the reasons this is such a powerful tool at work is this helps people think about what they can do in situations when they encounter them. It helps you develop leaders, because they can more dynamically have experiences and respond, instead of react when they encounter different things.

Jeremy Cline 9:04
I want to dive into some specific examples that people can take away about how they might be able to use stories at work. But that's really interesting. If I understood you right, I think you were saying that, basically, because stories include this element of imagination, and as you said, almost being able to feel the sand between your toes, that it's basically using more of your brain. And so, the fact that it does that, that's what enables the stickiness a bit more.

Karen Eber 9:33
A bit. So, there's layers and layers of what's happening in here in science. But one of the things that's happening in that moment, and really any moment is, as we're taking information in through our senses, as we're processing it, it gets stamped, those experiences get stamped with emotions. So, if you think about a mobile phone, and you take a photo on the phone, and you swipe up, you can see the date, the location, the f-stop, the file. So, all of this data are stamped on the phone without you doing anything. Something similar is happening as you're taking information in through your senses. As you are having an experience, even with a story, your brain is stamping that experience with emotions, with things that then get stored in your long-term memory. So, this is part of why a story is sticky, because when you then encounter that situation that you heard about, so maybe you hear a story about promoting an employee, and you hear a story about someone telling what the leader considered and how they told the person and whatever that story is, when it's time for you to promote an employee or consider it, you're going to remember that story, because your brain has stamped that experience. And we respond, we don't react. Our brain is in the predictions business. It is always trying to anticipate what happens, because it wants to respond and not react. The brain, it has one job, to keep you alive every day. And to do that, it is the broker of calories. Your brain has some calories that are used to run your body and functions, and those are non-negotiables. There are these extra calories, bonus calories that it can choose to spend on paying attention and focusing. So, your brain wants to respond, because the faster it does, the faster it can save calories, it's going to respond by drawing on all of these experiences in your memory of what it has. Sometimes it gets those predictions wrong, but that's where the basis of our understanding, our communication, our actions come from. A story is a much more dynamic way to harness all of those things that are naturally happening and help you create more meaning.

Jeremy Cline 11:45
I'd like to look at some specific examples through the frame of a case study, which I think might make it a bit more alive and practical for people. And regular listeners to the podcast will be familiar with a chap who I bring up from time to time called Tom, who is in his late 30s, he's a lawyer, he's got a young child, wife, both he and his wife work, and he's maybe got a few career challenges coming up. And what I'd love to do with you is explore some of the ways that Tom might use stories professionally to support or advance his career, or maybe to help himself with his own personal development. So, let's start with a fairly general, common example. Tom has got his appraisal meeting coming up. How might Tom think about using stories in that meeting to help him?

Karen Eber 12:48
This is true for appraisal meetings, but it's also true for job interviews. The goal in both of these settings is, you want to build the understanding in the manager's mind. So, in an appraisal meeting, you're meeting with your boss, or manager, and their goal is to assess you and to have a discussion and to come away with an understanding of you that they then summarise into your performance. Same in a job interview, they're truly there to create an understanding of you and decide whether they're moving forward. If you aren't dynamically building the understanding of you in their mind, you are risking their listening to your stories, listening to you talk about your experiences, and forming their own, that could be accurate, or it could miss the mark. So, what I mean by that, when you are intentionally telling the story of your year, or a specific project, specific cases within the year, you are helping that person understand what you did, the role you played, how your skills grew, and the impact that you had. And you can really explicitly be thoughtful about what is that understanding I'm trying to have this person come away with, and how do I tell the story in the way to help shape that. When you just list facts, and you just list accomplishments, you are risking them not having that connection to it, maybe making an assumption based on their own experiences that could be inaccurate. So, first thing I suggest for appraisals is, step back, look at your year, assuming this is an annual one, and think of three words or phrases that summarise your year. And not just hardworking, conscientious, but really specific phrases that are memorable about you. It's almost like a fun label with the intent that this is something that you want your manager to come away thinking. So, in my case, if I had a really big year on storytelling, I might say, this year, I was the tour guide of storytelling. I took people to new destinations, and I helped them learn things along the way. You're going to remember something like that more dynamically. And so, what you want to put thought into is, how would you describe, when you think of you at your best this year and what you've achieved and accomplished, what are those three words or phrases? Because you're going to work them into the conversation, it's going to help you be memorable. If your boss is presenting you at a talent review, it gives them the words to summarise and make you memorable. You want to start there. From there, you want to list out what were your accomplishments. What were the different things that you worked on throughout the course of the year? And not just the impacts, because sometimes these can be a really lengthy list of things. But I think, to the extent that you can share, here's what I was presented with, here's what I did, here's the impact. And then, here's what I learned from that. That 'here's what I learned' is taking it a step further and building the understanding in your manager's mind of your growth, of your realisations, of how you are continuing to look at yourself and what's important to you. All of the pieces of what you did, what the situation was, what you did, the impact, are important, but what you learned from it is going to allow for a different conversation, but it's also going to help shape their understanding of you.

Jeremy Cline 16:18
That's a really interesting thing to add. Because as you were talking, I was thinking of the STAR model, which I'm sure you're familiar with, it's something like, situation, task, action, result, which you can use in appraisals, or you can use in interviews. But adding this thing, this learning thing at the end, so you can demonstrate self-awareness, you can demonstrate growth, I'm guessing a lot of people have thought about that, but I can see it being absolutely golden.

Karen Eber 16:46
Yes. And I feel like where STAR falls short is, STAR is a helpful formula for listing events, but it's very easy to hear the STAR formula of here is the situation, here is the action, here is the result, and still not connect with it. What STAR is missing is, what was the challenge, what was the conflict. It's easy to list a situation but not describe why was it complicated. We live our worlds every day, but our bosses don't. And while they hopefully have some idea of why something was messy or complicated, they don't know it the way you do. And so, part of building their understanding is helping them know it. So, I like a model where you start first with what was the challenge or conflict that you were presented with, and what makes it messy or complicated. Help us connect to that, because now we're going to engage our emotions, that we're going to be looking, so as our brain hears this, it's going to go back into this file of memories and subconsciously think when have we experienced something like this. How do we connect to this and share it? Same thing is going to happen for your boss. Your boss is going to be hearing this, and they're going to relate to moments like that. You're going to be connecting to that emotion, which is the heart of decision making. So, start with a challenge or conflict, describe what was at stake, what was messy, what would happen if you didn't do anything. Maybe this is something you do in preparation, you don't share all of it, but work through that, so that it shows the significance of it. And then, describe what you did, what was the action that you took, what was the result, and then what was your learning, what came away from it. I feel like that model gives you just a step further than what STAR does, and it helps ensure that the person listening is not making assumptions you don't want them to make. You're helping them recognise what's happening with those complications and what you've learned, and it doesn't have them fill in the gaps, which could happen differently than what you experienced.

Jeremy Cline 18:52
Let me go back to what you were saying earlier about, first of all, coming up with these three phrases that described your year. And I've got Tom in my ear who's going, 'I can't think of anything. I can't think of anything pithy or witty to say.' So, where can Tom start to help himself tease this out of his brain?

Karen Eber 19:16
Start with obvious. Don't go for pithy. Just make a list, get stuff down. Maybe it's a list of seven things, but make a list. And then, once you get a first pass, start to say, 'Well, how do I do this different than other people? What does that look like? If my boss was explaining me versus someone else on the team, what is different?' And keep putting constraints in place by asking yourself questions of what is really unique about this. How am I approaching this differently? What is the impact that I have different? You could ask people around you. How would you describe me? What am I doing that's really unique? The key is, you don't want those words or phrases to be these very unmemorable things like, I'm hardworking, I'm conscientious. That is all true. But that's not memorable. So, you want to be including additives, you want to be including descriptions that will be memorable. So, start with the obvious, get them down, and then keep challenging yourself to say what is that. So, I could have said to you, 'I'm a dynamic communicator.' Okay, that's not memorable, though. Well, how am I communicating? Who am I communicating to? What am I doing different? Well, I'm telling stories. What situations am I telling stories in? Well, I'm often telling stories to impart knowledge. Okay, well, what's an analogy for that? What are roles or places or metaphors in life that show what that could be? Well, a tour guide. A tour guide is taking you to new things, and they're showing you things along the way, and they're putting things in your path. And so, you can keep putting these constraints in place that help you get to a more specific word or phrase. But it does feel very hard to start, to think like, I'm not going to start there, and no one will. So, start with the obvious and get it out, and then keep challenging yourself to make it memorable.

Jeremy Cline 21:08
People quite often like to talk, and they like to talk about themselves, and they like to feel listened to. So, I'm curious as to whether there's merit in either this appraisal meeting, or in an interview, to elicit stories from the other person, be it the manager or the person who's conducting the interview.

Karen Eber 21:31
Absolutely. And appraisals are multi part, right? There's often the part we generate, which is our self-assessment and our summary. So, in this piece, which is often in writing first, this is where you want to work in those words or phrases. This is where you want to make sure that you are framing up these different things by describing the complicated situation or what was messy about it, what you did, the outcome and the learning. Because all of that is going to inform how your boss comes into that conversation. They're going to review this and come in. I love to start with, 'I would love for this to be a dialogue, I would love to understand some of your experiences about me and ask questions or share stories about this.' And to the extent you can prompt them with it before you get there, even better. Some people need that time to process internally and think about their experiences and put their thoughts together, and might not be as good at that in the moment. But it should be a two-way exchange of stories. Same for a job interview. It should be a two-way exchange of stories of asking and getting to those experiences, because that's helping us understand your day-to-day. If the person you're having the conversation with, by the time you get there, hasn't come with stories, ask them questions. Ask them about, when was a time you saw me at my best this year? What is something you wanted me to do more of? I believe that performance appraisals are an opportunity to rehire your team. Meaning that, if you think about when you are interviewing for a job, often the person you're interviewing with paints this picture of what your job will be, their day-to-day, the role, the team. But then, we'll often zoom out a little bit and talk about how can you grow and develop, what opportunities are there for you. You're painted this very hopeful, exciting picture of often a career path, and what that could be, and it's a very uplifting conversation. Performance appraisal should be that same type of conversation of, we're now looking at this next year. Yes, we want to talk about what's been done. But hopefully, we've been talking about that all a year, and not just today. And we want to talk about where this could go. And so, to me, all of that is the story of you and where you are and where you want to go. And framing these discussions in this way and talking about where you've seen this person at their best, what you want to make sure they're doing more of, I think a great question that manager can ask an employee is, where do you feel like you have untapped potential? In 20 years, I have only heard one person ever say they didn't feel they had untapped potential. And that was a gentleman who was retiring in three months. Every other room I have been in, with thousands of employees, every person feels like, I have untapped potential, which really means I don't feel seen, there's something that I can contribute here, that I don't feel like you really understand. So, these conversations are such a great moment to be curious and figure out how to bring the best out of everyone, but also, how to create the right circumstances for that.

Jeremy Cline 24:45
And that's a question which you could ask to the manager. Where do you see that I have untapped potential?

Karen Eber 24:52
Right. Absolutely.

Jeremy Cline 24:54
And I can see this being a way of creating greater connection, maybe warmth, improving the relationship. I'm guessing, this will actually come as a surprise to a lot of line managers, if they suddenly have someone who's asking them questions and asking them to tell stories, my guess is that 99% of people don't do it. And so, that in itself would come as a surprise, and hopefully a pleasant one.

Karen Eber 25:19
But think of these conversations, whether you are manager or employee, you dread them. And your performance reviews have a terrible reputation. There's research that says that a good conversation barely gives you any percent increase in performance, but a bad conversation, and I don't mean bad rating, I mean a poorly executed conversation can have a negative 30% impact. Because managers are afraid to enter a conversation that they don't know where it's going to go. They're afraid that someone is going to be uncomfortable, and they don't know how to navigate it. Or maybe they're working in a system where there is a bell curve, and employees are rated, and they're forced to give people ratings that are different than what they would do. And so, we're now in this very artificial, inauthentic conversation, that is uncomfortable, with both sides trying to do everything they can to get out of it as quickly as possible without doing much damage. That's miserable. That is miserable. So, if you can frame it about stories, it is so much easier on everyone. The poor conversations are, let me look backwards and tell you something nine months ago that you did, but I'm going to be vague, and I'm not going to have a specific example, and I can't really recall. And now, as the employee, you're not motivated. In fact, you're deflated. That's not helpful for anybody. And that's shame on you as the manager for allowing whatever that is to go nine months. But if you are engaged in a conversation about stories, here's what I saw that I really loved this year. I mean, as a manager, these are such great moments to do the 'I caught you in the best way'. I saw in the meeting you did this, and I really liked that. I thought that was a really important moment. These shouldn't be saved for performance conversations, but these are things that just amplify performance. And so, when you can get into this exchange of, 'Here's where I saw you at your best or let's talk about', I love this question to start, the manager asking the employee, 'What are you proud of this year? Tell me one thing you're proud of.' It's a different conversation than, 'Here are the three things you did well.' And already, the employee isn't listening, because they're bracing themselves for the 45 minutes that are going to be spent on things that went terribly. Exchanging these and conversations of stories and being curious and keeping the frame of what do we take forward, what do we need to make you successful, what do you need from me, what can we help you do, that is a true performance conversation.

Jeremy Cline 27:58
And what I'm going to say to Tom is that there's a good chance that you don't have a manager like that, who's very good at asking these questions and selling stories and that kind of thing. So, have a play around with trying to elicit it. Worst that can happen is, it falls flat and ends up being a slightly awkward conversation with your line manager. But on the other hand, it might turn into a great conversation.

Karen Eber 28:22
I'd love to sneak in the vegetables. So, Tom, if your manager isn't sharing a story, and maybe you ask a question, and they're still not sharing a story, sneak in the vegetables and say, 'Hey, manager, I'll tell you what I'm really proud of this year.' Because what you're doing is, you're saying, here's the manual of me, here's how to work with me, here's me at my best. So, ideally, we have managers that are curious and ask these questions and help us, and we bring things to these conversations, we come prepared with, here's what I want this person coming away knowing about me, here are things I would love to see different, here's one thing that would make things better for me. You can sneak in the vegetables in different moments. And I can't think of any manager that would roll their eyes at, here's something I'm proud of this year. If I'm the manager that never asked that, I might be surprised. Like, oh! Oh, that's interesting. I learned something about you that I didn't know. And that's wonderful.

Jeremy Cline 29:25
Let's turn to a different scenario. So, let's say that Tom isn't particularly happy where he works at the moment, but rather than looking for a new job, he's in a company which is big enough where there could be other opportunities. Maybe he could move sideways into a different part of the business. What part could stories play for Tom in this exploration and in his interactions with other people?

Karen Eber 29:55
There was a woman who stepped into a company new, she was the senior executive. And as she started her first 30 days where she was going and meeting and listening to people, she would end the conversations with, 'There's just one thing I want you to know about me. I'm tough. I want you to come prepare to our meetings. I'm going to ask you questions. And if you don't have the answer, that's okay. But I want to know how you're going to get it. I have high expectations. I'm tough.' That's all she said. Meeting after meeting after meeting. She was walking down the hall a couple weeks later, there were two women in front of her, they didn't see her. One of them said to the other, 'I have a meeting coming up with this woman.' And her friend said, 'Oh, you better prepare. She's tough. I've heard she's tough.' This woman created her own brand. She put expectations, she laid out what she wanted, but she created her own brand, and she became known as that. And people then came in prepared. And that's true for each of us. We help shape our brand through the stories that we tell. Now, there's the stories we control, and then there's the stories of other people's experiences. But to the extent you can be sharing you at your best with your teams, with your colleagues, those are stories that get repeated, and that's who we become, that's how people start to understand us. It is always, when you think about this, this is about helping build people's understanding of you. So, being thoughtful as you are encountering different people in different parts of the organisation, of here's me at my best, here's some things that I'm excited to do, here's what I'm looking for, you're putting the words in their mouth. Because if you don't, they make their own assumptions based on their own experiences, which are going to be different from your experiences, and they're going to have different interpretations.

Jeremy Cline 31:45
Okay, so say Tom is thinking of quitting being a fee-earning lawyer, and he wants to go and join the marketing team in the firm. So, yeah, perhaps give some examples of what Tom could say to the head of marketing, as he explores whether this might be an option.

Karen Eber 32:05
Each time we tell a story, we have the opportunity to consider if we want the audience to feel a member of an in-group or an out-group. So, in-groups are, think of a networking event, we walk into the room, and we immediately start scanning. If we don't know anybody, we immediately start scanning for who we are going to talk with. Subconsciously, our brain is making these choices of, not that person, not that group, maybe over here, they look like they have a friendly face. We don't even recognise what's happening, but somehow our brain says, 'This person, this group feels safe enough to go up to.' And you go up, and you start a conversation. What your brain is doing is it's sorting in-groups and out-groups. So, in-groups are people or projects or organisations, parts of it, where we feel a sense of belonging, we feel a sense of connection, feel a sense of sameness. Sometimes it's a sharing of values or beliefs, sometimes it's a similarity of work. Out-groups are where we notice differences. So, charities use stories of out-groups all the time. You hear this story of one individual whose home was destroyed by a natural disaster, and they're struggling to get food, electricity and clothing. You're hearing the story while you're sitting inside electricity, next to food, plumbing, running water, and you recognise how different your circumstances are. So, when you're telling your story, you have the opportunity to consider, do I want the audience to feel a member of an in-group, where we feel this connection and the sameness? Or do I want them to feel different as a member of an out-group or both? So, in this case, Tom needs to recognise that, immediately, as he goes to marketing to have a conversation, they're going to be struck with this cognitive dissonance of, but Tom, you're not marketing, you are an attorney. You are an out-group to us. And that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that, but he's going to have to do translation, so that they understand where he can be a member of an in-group, where he does have skills, abilities, experience, that complement what they do, but also lean into the out-group of, but also, because I do have this different career path, I do have these different experiences, here's what will make me a better marketer. It's making the translation for people and meeting them where they're at, and helping them recognise what could be. And so, think about, where are you a member of an out-group? How do you lean into that, but how do you then translate that, so that people can see you as a member of an in-group? When you hear someone's not the right culture fit or not hired because they're not a culture addition, it's often because they didn't have that ability to make that translation, so that people could see them fitting in or adding. I don't like saying culture fit. Where someone could see where they could add to that culture experience.

Jeremy Cline 34:56
And if you were Tom contemplating that sort of conversation, what kind of stories might you be trying to weave in?

Karen Eber 35:03
I would need to know more about the work that the marketing team is doing. Work fundamentally is based on projects and people and teams and challenges and things. And so, I would probably draw comparisons to projects and challenges. In his work as a lawyer, I'm sure he has had to persuade people, to advise them, to potentially help them be aware of different circumstances, make choices. I would want to take what he did and connect it to the very similar things that marketing is doing. So, I would sit down and look at what are some of the things that the marketing team has recently done. And if I was going to frame them out for what was their challenge, what did they do, what were the impacts, where can I draw connection points in what I do, how can I translate that, yes, fundamentally, we are in different functions in this company, however, much of the pieces here are very similar. So, I've known several people who are attorneys who made the segue into leadership development, because the way that they were advising and helping people think about their options, and how they showed up, or very similar paths, and there wasn't a big leap for them to take, and they were able to make that connection.

Jeremy Cline 36:16
We've talked a little bit about frameworks for stories. Are there any other just high-level, either frameworks or techniques, or both, which Tom can have in his mind, which are going to make any stories he tells more impactful?

Karen Eber 36:35
Things to keep in mind, a story always begins with your audience. We first jump to the story we want to tell, which is often our favourite story. And that often isn't the story that the audience needs to hear. Just because you love it doesn't mean they will, because we have to connect it to them. Start first, anytime you are going to communicate or tell a story, by considering what is it that I want this audience to think or feel. Start with the internal aspect of it that you want them to come away with. And then move to the external of what do I want them to know or do. And write a sentence for each of these. It's not a lengthy thing, but you want to ground yourself, and ultimately, what do I want them to think or feel, know or do, what is their mindset today, and what might be an obstacle. So, for Tom who wants to move into marketing, he wants them to think or feel that he is an obvious fit, that the work he does complements it, that that's not a stretch. What he wants them to know or do is open up an interview for him, invite him to a conversation, hire him. Their mindset today? Well, attorneys maybe aren't necessarily obvious marketers, and that's a shift, he has to build that understanding, where their mindset today is, they see him as an attorney and not as a marketer. And the last one is an obstacle. What is the obstacle that might be there could be in this case that they have a hard time making the connection. So, when you ground yourself the needs for what do you want your audience to know, think, feel, do, their mindset today, and an obstacle, you're now able to start to think about what you're going to share differently. Because now you're not sharing it for you, you're sharing it for them. The second piece is, you do want to put a story structure in place. There are so many structures out there. There's things like the hero's journey, which many films are based on. Pixar has a wonderful storytelling model. But I find for your average person, they aren't helpful, because they are complicated, there's layers, there's many steps, and they're formulaic. And not every story should fit that formula. Plus, you're trying to land an idea in a meeting, not write a screenplay. So, I find there is a four-part storytelling model that is really helpful. And this is going to be the same thing as the audience, you want to write a sentence for each one. The first is, set the context. What's the setting for the story? Who's involved? And really, why should the audience care? Write out a sentence for that. And maybe two. The second is, what is the conflict? This is the fuel for the story. This is what is being faced and what needs to be resolved. Maybe it's between two people, maybe it's between the person and themselves. But what is the conflict, the thing that happens that needs resolution? The third is the outcome. What happens as a result of that conflict? What's the action? And the fourth is the one that most people skip. It's the takeaway. What do you want the audience coming away with? And the reason you do that is you can then take that takeaway and go back to what you outlined for your audience and say, 'Can I achieve what I said I wanted to based on this story?' They're meant to connect up, so you can make sure you can get there. Those two things are going to help you organise this story in your brain, they're going to make it easier for you to tell, and it's going to make it easier for the audience to hear. This is just a skeleton. This is not the whole story. There's many more pieces to put on it. But it gives you an organising structure to make all of that easier.

Jeremy Cline 40:15
The risk of putting you on the spot and asking you to riff, so Tom has got this conversation with the head of marketing, can you give some examples of where this structure might fit, context, conflicts, outcome, takeaway, to the stories that he's going to tell to the head of marketing?

Karen Eber 40:31
I would probably want to pick a story of my experience, if I'm Tom, that I can use to challenge this obstacle. So, we know that the head of marketing might say, 'Yeah, but you're an attorney, you're a lawyer, you don't do marketing.' So, if I want to challenge that, then I would want to think of, what's a story that will help demonstrate that I do very similar things to what marketing does? So, I would want to get really clear on what is that. Maybe it's, let's say, persuade. And I would map out a specific story based on my experience where I had done that, what that looks like, take them through it. And then, the takeaway, I would want to make this connection that leans into, practising law isn't that different than what happens here in marketing. Here's where I apply those skills in a very similar way that you do. I would want to meet them at this out-group moment and really connect it back to, we're not different. These same skills can apply in the same way to help persuade.

Jeremy Cline 41:38
I'm conscious that people's memories are short, and I can usually barely remember what I did last week, let alone what I did a year ago. Is it worth people going to the trouble of creating their own little story banks? So, something happens, and you think, 'Oh, you know what, that might be something that's worth pulling out later.' Is that an exercise worth doing, do you think?

Karen Eber 42:02
One hundred percent. And if you're okay, I would love to put you on the spot and do an example of how to do it. Turnabout is fair play. Okay, so I'm going to ask you two questions, one is intentionally vague, and just answer however you're comfortable. The first question is, describe your childhood. What was your childhood like?

Jeremy Cline 42:21
My childhood was normal, not particularly eventful, conventional maybe, two-parent household, one sibling, supportive parents.

Karen Eber 42:34
Perfect. Right. Intentionally vague and hard to answer, right? Let me ask the second question, then I'll explain what I did. The second question is, what sound or smell reminds you of home?

Jeremy Cline 42:44
A sound would definitely be my mum shouting from the kitchen, something like 'Dinner's ready' or 'I'm dishing up.'

Karen Eber 42:50
Yes, great. And there are countless stories of those moments and how you felt in that moment. So, what I did is demonstrate what often happens when we are trying to start building our own bank of story ideas. Because when we're trying to tell a story, it can be very hard to think of what do I tell. And that's what happens in that first question. When I asked you, what was your childhood like, your brain says, 'What!?' What part of childhood? It spans maybe 20 years. It's such a broad question, your brain doesn't know what file to go to, to answer it. And most people respond just as you did. They describe the number of family members that grew up around them, maybe the location, type of housing, they describe very generally, because it's just so broad. But when we go more specific, and we put some constraints in place, now you're getting to these moments at home, or you hear your mom calling, saying she's dishing up. And then, that would lead to so many other stories and moments. When you start to build a list of ideas, you're going to build them without knowing how or when you'll use them. It's truly to make a list so that when you do have an opportunity to tell the story, you come back to this list, having mapped out what you want for your audience and ask yourself, which one of these will help me do this? And scanning that list can help you get ideas. So, you want to build a list of things, like moments in your career, your favourite leader, project that was really challenging, think of maybe something in your personal life you should have gotten rid of, but you just can't. Maybe you have a favourite podcast or a museum or a piece of art. You want to start building a list of these things, not writing a whole story, and not even knowing when or how you'll use it. But these are things that you connect with and you have energy toward. It's a little slow at first, but pretty quickly, you can have 50, 75 things on this list, that when it's time to tell a story, you scan it. Sometimes the act of scanning it prompts a whole new story that is exactly what you need in that moment. But the best time to start collecting ideas for a story is when you never need one, because your brain is relaxed and comfortable.

Jeremy Cline 45:04
Karen, this has been a really, really interesting introduction to the use of stories in this way, which I'm sure a lot of people listening to this just won't have thought about how stories have this sort of extra utility. Someone whose interest has been piqued, what are the sort of books, tools, resources that are out there, which you'd recommend maybe someone starts with if they want to dive in a little bit more.

Karen Eber 45:29
There is a wonderful book by a professor at Harvard, by Frances Frei and her partner Anne Morriss. It's called Move Fast and Fix Things. And it's about trust at work, but it's really about how stories shape our day-to-day and our culture, and the impact that they can have. I think that's such a wonderful resource for people that are getting started in storytelling, and more specifically, in the working world, think about how you can use it to not only strengthen trust, but shape the environment that people work in.

Jeremy Cline 46:02
And you've got your own book. Where should people go if they want to find that? Or just where would you like to send them generally?

Karen Eber 46:08
Yeah, my book is called The Perfect Story: How to Tell Stories that Inform, Influence and Inspire. You can find it on my website, which is my name, kareneber.com.

Jeremy Cline 46:20
Links to those will be in the show notes as usual. Karen, this is going to sound like a terrible cliche, but thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story.

Karen Eber 46:28
I'm delighted, thank you so much.

Jeremy Cline 46:32
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Karen Eber. I can't think of anyone who doesn't like to be told stories. I mean, we all watch TV, we go to the cinema, we watch plays. So, the idea of bringing stories into conversations at work just makes perfect sense. You can use them to transport the person you're talking to into your situation. You can help them to see what you saw and feel what you felt. Karen talked about the STAR framework, which is quite common in interviews, so Situation, Task, Activity and Results. But she said how that framework misses challenge or conflict, what would have happened if you hadn't taken that action. So, hope that interview has given you some ideas as to how you can integrate stories into your working life. And if you missed anything, as you're listening, there's a full set of show notes with a summary of everything we talked about, a full transcript and links to resources, and they're at changeworklife.com/176, that's changeworklife.com/176. I love it when my guests share ideas, and perhaps come up with different ways of thinking. And the thing I'd love you to do is to share it as well. If you think there's something in what Karen was saying, maybe you're going to try it out, maybe you even have tried it out, and it's giving you results, pass it on, tell your friends and family about this episode, see what they make of it. You'll be doing them a favour. Let's face it, you'll look good, too. Now, unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past 12 or 18 months, you cannot have missed the rise and rise of artificial intelligence. AI tools are everywhere. And in two weeks' time, we're going to be exploring how you can use AI to help you with job searches, with interviews, basically to get ahead in your career. There are some really powerful tools out there and some really powerful techniques on how to use them. So, if you're interested, make sure you're subscribed to the podcast so you don't miss that episode, and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.

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