Here begins the second of three posts on how our story’s past, present, and future create compelling client connections. What turning-point stories from your poignant past have bubbled up? Memories of challenges you faced, successes you enjoyed, and those hard-to-predict “Aha!” moments are now in more focus than perhaps previously considered.
But when do you share such a story? How do we recognize what someone has called “permitted conversations” in the client relationship? For our purpose here, I use the phrase “the palpable present” to help us frame answers to our questions.
It’s been many years now since our daughter participated in what is called “Social” in Augusta, GA where we lived during our children’s formative years. A tradition in that community spanning decades, “Social” offered middle and high school students both dance lessons and instruction in the social graces. Now in high school, she reached the end of her “Social” journey at the “Cotillion” level. Dressed in a gown, her partner in white tie and tails, we and his parents beamed with pride for our children.
The capstone event of the year was a formal evening for participants and their families. And yes, sometime that evening, my daughter had me on her dance card. I remember the feel of the lace on her dress as I put my right hand on her waist. The look in her eyes and the love pouring from her heart were palpable. We all have those moments that never leave our memories, etched there by the senses.
In the same way, stories have this powerful, palpable quality about them. When you have garnered a few turning point moments from your past, you have them available and at the ready to share when something a client says triggers a memory. But when do you share such a story? Are you in a client relationship where what could be a sensitive topic is permitted? And how will you know unless you ask?
When you sense a client is struggling with a decision—financial, family, work, the future—are you hearing what may not be the same experience you had in your past, but is rife with many of the same feelings you experienced?
Do this. Wait for the other person to come to a pause. You may have already asked the “Tell me more” questions to gain clarity on the specific issue. Now comes the time to ask permission to share a story that may connect with the feelings you are sensing. Is it fear? Confusion? Disappointment? Even a handful of good feelings? The key is you become aware of palpable feelings coming from the other person.
Then ask: “I sense this _______ is having a powerful impact on you. Though our lives are very different, may I share with you a story?” Caution! DO NOT SAY, “I know exactly HOW you feel.” Rather, acknowledge their feelings. Then share your story. Focus on what happened, what you did, what you learned, and the “then . . . now” difference that moment has made. Both your story and the client’s will be different but may well contain similar feelings. Don’t be afraid to say things like, “I was so happy,” “I was disappointed in myself,” “I knew better, but . . . ,” or “I learned a hard but valuable lesson.”
Story’s palpable present is and will always be a factor in every engagement with another person. Rather than fearing what a story may do, offer who you are in a way that may well be the best gift, in that moment, you can give. In the third part of this series, we’ll look at story’s fertile future and the long-term benefits of incorporating story into your practice.