No matter what I am writing I find myself starting out with the same question.
Why am I writing this? Why do I week after week sit down and stare at this screen for at least an hour trying desperately to come up with something related to storytelling? Why am I torturing myself with the idea that anyone would be interested in my constant ramblings? Well, not quite like that, I am just having a tough day with this post. I usually ask why questions that will help a post move forward or at least have a point. Which may or may not happen in this blog.
Let’s talk about why. Every venture in your life begins with a why, it might be conscious like, ‘why are we watching this horrible movie?’ to something deeper like, ‘why I am still in this relationship?’ or something easy, ‘why am I eating?’ (You’re hungry…in case you were wondering. Why are you hungry is a harder question.) At this point you should be asking why are you reading this. Because you are morbidly curious if this is going to go somewhere. It is. I promise.
I like hearing people’s stories. Not just the ones they tell you when you are getting to know them, but the stories they tell you when you are at parties, or around a bonfire. Those fun stories that are fun little adventures into other people’s lives. I even like those stories that they exaggerate, or make up. It fascinates me. Not everyone wants to talk though so here is how I make that happen.
I know that is uncomfortable but most people do not like the silence and will need to fill it. As soon as they open their mouth to say something. Make eye contact and smile softly. No teeth just kick up the corners of your mouth so that they know you are interested. This shifts the power dynamic to them while allowing me to get what I want. I want that story they have sitting in the back of their closet that they only dust off when they have run out of things to say. The more detail they put into a story the closer I lean in and tilt my head slightly. I don’t know why this makes people talk more but they do.
Not all stories are fun and sometimes I want to know who a person really is, so ask ‘why?’ then why they give you an answer, you say it back to them and ask why again. Rinse and repeat. After the third time asking why and repeating it back include a personal fact about yourself to encourage them to go deeper.
This will lead to a feeling of intimacy and will eventually get the person to start on what I like to call the journey story. Once you see the shift in emotion from informative to emotional allow them space to talk and just nod. This isn’t your story. At some point you are just a witness to the journey. I enjoy watching people find out something new about themselves and I am privileged to get to see that.
Respect the story
When someone shares with me I try my best to honor it. Whatever emotions come out of the story, joy, laughter, tears, anger, I have to accept that I kept asking and own those feelings. I also have to accept that whatever story they told me will change me, sometimes in ways I don’t expect.
I use to do this all the time. My sister use to joke that a person wasn’t a part of our inner circle until they cried in my arms. Which isn’t true, some people cried from laughter. Eventually I was carrying so many stories that I couldn’t share with people, that it became to heavy and I had to stop asking. Now I save it for when a person needs guidance or focus. I don’t offer any of those things, I just show them a path to finding out what they want. Unfortunately I am very curious. It’s a problem. Someday, when I forget some of the things I have heard, maybe I will ask again.