Story Telling

Storytelling has been around since the dawn of mankind and was a great way of memorising traditions and history .  Oral tradition was the only means of keeping records before the invention of writing.  Writing which was developed in the Middle East (probably by the Sumerians in modern day Iran or Iraq) provided an alternative way to record the histories of people and it was a natural process for histories to become simply stories.  The Epic of Gilgamesh that dates from earlier than 1000 BC is widely considered to be the first written story and prior to being recorded it had been kept alive by oral tradition.  Later what we recognise now as the Old Testament was recorded that traced the formation and travails of Israel before moving into the New Testament.

Pilgrim’s Progress written in 1678

Stories don’t only entertain, but can be used to inform and educate.

While not unique among the ancients, for story telling, Jesus is widely recognised as an outstanding example through his use of parable and allegory.  John Bunyan used The Pilgrim’s Progress to convey the Christian journey and a similar trend has continued into modernity.  In the 20th century the Christian apologist C S Lewis picked up this theme again with the Narnia books and in particular The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which is a transparent allegory of the Christian message and even references Old Testament principles in the light of New Testament interpretations.  Some elements were obvious like the sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan; while others were less so – such as the deep magic which represented the law that condemned and the deeper magic which stood for the grace of God

Away from Christianity a personal favourite, that I was introduced to as a teenager, was Pawn of Prophecy (Part 1 of the Belgariad series) by David Eddings, a  coming of age novel set in a fantasy world.  A key character is Belgarath the Sorcerer who is initially introduced as the Storyteller who provides the back story for the boy Garion as he starts his epic quest..  Eddings drew on real world oral traditions as his methodology for bringing the world to life with its vibrant history of the Wars of Gods and Men in their fight for supremacy as good sought to overcome evil.

Before I get too distracted I want to underline the point that story telling is an essential communicative tool and it has a role in the workplace too.

The best and most effective communicators have always used stories to help make their point.

So what do good story tellers do?

  1. Real life stories make the speaker more real and can help hold the interest of the listener when well delivered.
  2. Stories illustrate better than abstract principles and ideas.  A good story can be used as an anchor to make a salient point or simplify an idea.
  3. Stories can entertain and amuse and enable greater rapport with the audience.
  4. A good story should engage the emotions, build anticipation and stimulate the imagination.

Some Does and Don’ts for Story Tellers.

  1.  If you decide to tell a story or anecdote it must be short and make a point or illustrate something
  2. Don’t make the story too long because the story then becomes the dominant element rather than the point that is being made.
  3. Don’t allow the story to sidetrack you into a memory trawl.  Stay on point.
  4. Use stories sparingly as there needs to be real content behind the message
  5. Employ your full soft skills tool set to communicate and engage the audience as much as possible.  Do so as naturally as you can while avoiding repeated fillers and unnecessary sounds like ‘erh’ and ‘erm’.

Can you think of any more?  Please use the form below to let us know about any ideas you have.

Omega will soon be launching some training on how to develop and use Story Telling as a communicative tool in a business environment, so keep in touch.

Let he without sin…

On Saturday 10th March 2018 Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 in what has historically been considered to be the number one match in the Premier League.  Liverpool dominated English football in the 1970s and 1980s and Manchester United did so in the next two decades.  Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, now a Sky Sports Pundit, was filmed spitting at fans who drove by while tormenting him about Liverpool’s loss.

What he did:

The obvious thing is that he should have ignored them.

Defending the Undefendable.

Jamie Carragher was wrong.  To spit at anybody under any circumstances is a social taboo and out of order.  It is black and white and his offense even more obscene because he is a role model and public figure.  In the mind of many what makes it even worse was there was a 14 year old girl in the other car who was not even involved in what some have termed banter.

So why am I ready to defend him?

The following day he appeared in a prolonged interview (reproduced below) in which he apologised totally unconditionally.  He described his actions as 5 seconds of madness and continually apologised.  When asked about the 14 year old girl he again said sorry with the glint of a tear in his eye.  He is not an actor and I do not recall him being interviewed particularly often post match.  The interviewer – quite rightly gave him a hard time and pushed him as hard as she could by invoking the example he had set to his own family, and the fans as well as those who he directly spat at.  When asked if he should keep his job he simply said that he couldnt comment on it one way or the other because anything he said could be perceived as an excuse or attempt to reason his unacceptable behaviour.  This was something he refused to do.  His five seconds of madness were replaced by immediate regret and remorse and a preparedness to face the music.

What he said afterwards

I am not particularly a Liverpool fan nor was I a fan of Jamie Carragher as a player, but the way he has held his hands up speaks volumes about his integrity.  Integrity is not about being perfect, but it is about taking responsibility and being willing to face the consequences.

Personally I really hope he keeps his job because ironically his example stands as a shining light to politicians and business leaders who have no shame.

Finally, we are all flawed so let he without sin cast the first stone.


In Search of Meritocracy

I am going to start this article as unpolitically-correctly as possible, but I challenge you to read it to the end and see if you still disagree with me.

When it comes to work I don’t believe in minority rights, nor do I believe in feminist agendas or staff quotas.  I do not see race, religion or disability nor do I see sexual orientation.

I see people.

The fact is that when we compartmentalise people we end up creating an us and them agenda, however noble our motivations may be.  What really matters is the person’s ability to do the job, nothing more and nothing less.  This is the bottom line.

In other words what I am searching for is that ever so elusive thing known as meritocracy; or put simply people get on (or don’t) at work because of their qualifications, knowledge and experience.  When recruiting or promoting it is for the good of a company to have the best person in that position they are hiring for and everything else is irrelevant.  The best person for the job can be defined as a correct blend of competence, experience, soft skills and ambition.

It is patronising to – let’s go with stereotype here – give a woman a job to make up a quota or to make the boardroom seem more balanced.  They know she is there to make up the numbers and she knows that it is highly unlikely that she is there because she deserves it on an equal footing.  She may be the best woman for the job, but if being a woman was the key qualifying criteria, this shows nothing more than blatant disrespect that in my view is counterproductive.

Furthermore if an organisation is that skewed towards male hegemony, offering a woman a token position to fulfil their need to appear as an equal opportunities employer is not going to make any difference.

I can make similar arguments about any other marginalised or minority group and while I accede to the points many of these people raise, quotas and pushing a minority agenda is not the solution.  I will also further agree that there is a need for greater tolerance and understanding in society as a whole and not just in the workplace, but forming (often militantly minded) groups has the habit of provoking even greater hostility from the intolerant and hateful.

This is consistent with meritocracy because if a gay employee is experiencing any kind of discrimination it is wrong.  However, meritocracy argues that sexuality is irrelevant in the workplace and assuming ‘ze’ [1] is a competent employee it is the intolerant who should be reprimanded or even sacked.

‘Mobbing’ – I hate that word – just call it bullying – has many similar characteristics and in each case the hostile party should be shown the door.   There is no difference.

The solution is somehow elusive.  We must ensure recruitment practices focus only on merit, and not the agenda of recruiting individuals with all of their pre-formed opinions and expectations.  One way of doing this is to widen the decision making body who initially shortlists and then interviews the candidate.  This same body can also make a shortlist based on a limited CV that has had all of its personal biographical data removed; name (some names can be indicative of age too). DOB, gender etc.  This limited CV then presents competences, knowledge and experience as their primary indicators.  Finally if employers (and many do) can create some kind of empirical scoring system then a successful job interview will come down to a points total.

That is meritocracy in action.

Ultimately employers will recruit who they want and this is even more so in smaller companies that have less resources.  If they want a pretty girl they will take her on irrelevant of her competences or if they want a young male manager that is what they will take even if a better qualified woman applies for the same job.  Sadly there is very little anyone can do about this other than appeal to the employer’s integrity.

Decency and humanity demand that merit and merit alone is how we get on in the workplace.

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[1] In recent years the definition of gender has moved beyond tradition male, female and neuter classifications and pronouns such as he/she/it are no longer sufficient and an attempt to resolve this has come with the introduction of the word ‘ze’ (which rhymes with he and she) has been suggested as a cover all for gender pronouns.