Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Appreciative Storytelling

Storytelling That Can Change Your Life and Your Culture

The power of APPRECIATIVE QUESTIONS is that they invite and encourage people to tell stories about what works. And these stories are energizing! They identify the common themes that make a desired outcome possible. They give people something tangible to hang on to. They’re action-oriented. They send a loud and clear message: WE CAN DO THIS!

Getting people to focus on what has worked in the past gives them a reason to work together in the present with a sense of hope for the future. This is not pie-in-the-sky visualization. This is using what has already happened as a springboard into the future—a reality-based vision of the future. The idea is to take what you already know works, what you’ve already done well, and build on it so that you can become more than what you’ve been.

Here’s another benefit. When people get in touch with their strengths, the good things they’ve already accomplished and their successes, they develop the confidence to assume more OWNERSHIP and RESPONSIBILITY for building on these successes.

The stories that emanate from appreciative questions also benefit those who were not part of the stories. When we see what others have done that works, we become inspired to do more of what works ourselves.

Quite frankly, this is the magic behind Southwest Airlines’ magnificent culture. The people of Southwest are master storytellers. The stories come from everywhere, but they have been inspired and fueled by an extremely talented employee communications group that knows how to ask appreciative questions. They are skilled at getting people in every nook and cranny of the organization to focus on what works, what matters, what adds value and what makes a difference.

Every time a story is told about heroic customer service, altruistic employees supporting one another or creative entrepreneurs finding new ways to do more with less, it reinforces the Southwest Spirit. These stories empower people with ideas, expand their options, engage them with hope and show them what heroic customer service looks like.


Dead or Alive?

Whether it is the story of your life, job, company, project team, product or service, the stories you tell can have an energizing, life-giving effect on people or they can fall flat and SUCK the life right out of people—your stories are either DEAD or ALIVE.

If you just met one of us on an airplane, in a gym or waiting for an elevator, which one of the following stories would make you want to get to know us better:

Story #1—Alive:

We are in the business of telling stories that change the world—at least a small part of the world. Once a week somewhere around the globe, we have the privilege and honor of working with business leaders who want to create great places where great people can do great work. Our work takes us into some of the most interesting organizations you can imagine and our stories come from incredibly successful companies and individuals that are blowing the doors off business-as-usual.

Our jobs give us the opportunity to see the world and be on a reconnaissance mission for the leisure travel we do with our family. Our family loves being outdoors. We are so fortunate to live in San Diego, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with three healthy children. No matter where we are, it’s always a pleasure to come home.

Story #2—Dead:

We are authors and professional speakers who travel for a living. We work with organizations that want to avoid dysfunctional leaders and toxic cultures. Our thing is to study great companies and find out what they have in common. There are a lot of people in our business, but we’re pretty good at what we do.

Every day air travel is getting worse, we hate living on airplanes, but hey, there is no perfect job. We live in San Diego, where the cost of living is exorbitant. The weather is fantastic, but you pay for it in real estate prices. The city’s growing too fast and traffic congestion is making it feel like every other big city, but it’s still a great place to live.

Which of these two stories do you think makes us more proud of what we do and where we live? Which is more energizing? Which makes us happier?

Storytelling Exercise

Imagine yourself at a party and someone asks: What do you do? Tell the short version story of your life, career, company, etc., the way you normally tell it to people you just meet.

What do you notice about the way you tell it? On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) how would you rate each of the following criteria:

  • Is the story hopeful and optimistic?
  • Does it make you proud and give you energy?
  • Does it make you happy?
  • Is it compelling? Do you think people would want to know more?
  • Is it dead or alive?
  • If you are not happy with the results, figure out how to jettison the deadness from your story and start telling the version that energizes you and makes you come alive!

Develop the habit of doing this with every story you tell YOURSELF. The way you tell stories to yourself will ultimately have an impact on the way you tell stories to others. The way you tell stories to others will have a huge impact on your ability to:

  • Make a point
  • Influence people
  • Motivate and inspire others
  • Create a following
  • Get amazing things done