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Conversations are Stories

Entrepreneur magazine explores storytelling in the April issue’s article The Tales We Tell. Beyond the use of storytelling as a sales tool for businesses, the article identifies other benefits, such as helping customers understand a business and helping employees and management to connect.

storytellingIn reading the article, it occurred to me that conversations are their own type of story, with each interaction having its own narrative arc. Conversations, especially those that grip us, progress from “hello” through a myriad of confessions, deceits, exaggerations, witticisms, gossip, banalities, anxieties, aspirations and desires, culminating in the resolving “goodbye.”

Entrepreneur’s article asserts that storytelling can help people relate to others, that honest and personal stories connect us through our own vulnerability to that of someone else. Stories serve to dismantle stereotypes and to express profound concepts in human terms. All of these characteristics apply equally to our art of conversation.

For stories, however, to come alive and compel us, one interviewee notes, they must “be approached in a meaningful way. People can’t feel like they are being manipulated.” That is why many of these endeavors to create stories to express a narrative about a particular product, business launch or company culture fail. They come with an unspoken underlying agenda to influence, which poisons the authenticity of the story. It is the same with conversation, as beautifully expressed by Kwame Anthony Appiah, who said “… the point about conversation is that it doesn’t have a point.” As I have written previously here about predetermined direction, scripting a story to arrive at a predetermined destination robs it of its sincerity. As with engaging conversations, sometimes the story needs to tell us what it wants to say.

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