All of us live in a story-book world. With our first breath, we were birthed into a story of family and faith, country and culture that has been going on a long time. Early on, we live in the “family of origin” story unaware of all the influences we are continually absorbing. Beginning in late adolescence, we start writing our own narratives. The script’s foundation was set in childhood. The characters, values, and plot of what follows are largely our own doing. In a word, we become the author of our life’s story.
When meeting with a prospect or client, a kind of gentle collision of stories takes place. All good until we slide into a dangerous assumption. Here it is. We are the “advisor” and they have come to us seeking “advice” which we gladly give. Why we have so much to tell them, don’t we? The temptation is great to write new relationships into our story because that’s our job and how we get paid. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve gone down that road!
There’s a better, more powerful way. What if we re-programmed the discovery process to focus on the client’s story? Rather than “client-stepping-into-our-story,” we embrace “advisor-stepping-into-client-story.” In other words, we refuse to front-load the conversation with who we are and all we know. Why not invite the other person to unpack the story that has brought him or her to us? If you haven’t watched it, take a look at my brief video, “Lives at Mid-Story.”
In its recently revised and expanded edition, Humble Inquiry, retired MIT professor Edgar Schein and his son Peter deftly reveal how changing a conversation from “telling” to “asking” changes a conversation. Intentionally, the Scheins argue, we “tellers” become “askers,” shifting power from us and our story’s importance to the other—the prospect, client, friend, or spouse. When we “ask,” more than “tell,” we convey genuine interest in how that other person showed up on our doorstep swaddled in a basket full of relationships, statements, confusions, dreams, and fears. Look at it this way. We sit in their theatre taking in this story-filled individual who is inviting us to join their play! My job is to get into THEIR play, not persuade them to be a part of mine!
We say the business is about THEM, but all too often act as if it’s all about US! It’s their story that matters, their dreams that long for expression, their fears begging for assurance, their broken places that need healing. They sit in our space, but we must be intentional about sitting in theirs: feeling what they feel, dreaming what they dream.
At the end of the day or even a career, our story will matter more, include more, and celebrate more because we first stepped into the stories of others. When that happens, we discover—magically so!—that we have joined their story; transformation occurs and everything that follows changes into wonder! Do you want to grow your business? Become an asker, stepping into another’s story. Start doing that and you’ll have all the business you can possibly imagine.