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How to explain important changes (and deliver some tough news) using stories.

Scott Friedman is a volunteer firefighter in Pennsylvania. He needs to explain a new strategy to the other volunteers in a full team meeting. And he’s got to deliver some tough news: if they can’t match up to the standards of a modern firefighting organisation, there’s no place for them in his team.

Here’s how Scott can use stories to do three things:

1. Frame his message

Stories help you answer an obvious question: “Why am I here now, talking to you?”

Scott can use one of the Concept cards – Order & Chaos or The Dragon and the City – to do this. He’s explaining the big picture, but in story terms. Here’s how the world is changing. This is what we need to do in response. This is what’s at stake.

At any point in his talk, Scott can refer back to this big picture to justify the changes he’s making.

2. Show examples

Scott should ask himself “What do I want these people to do, say or think as a result of listening to me?” Then he needs to pick out three or four of the most important points he wants his audience to remember. And for each of these, he needs a little story, so his audience can see what he means. Movie Time will help him do something like this, tell a story with action, emotion and meaning:

“From now on, you will have to carry out a daily equipment check on items like the hydraulic cutting gear. Yes, I mean every day. I know it’s boring and I know there’s every chance the gear will be ok. But imagine what it would be like if you didn’t do the check, and you only find out when you’re at a freeway pile-up that the air-hose is leaking. Imagine how you’d feel knowing you’d sent your team out with faulty gear.”

3. Listen

Good communication is never a one-way street. There’s so much wisdom in a team, whether you’re firefighters, teachers or UX designers.

Scott should use part of the meeting to get a conversation going with the volunteers, so they share stories about what good practice looks like in action. This kind of story sharing happens all the time – but usually informally, in gossip or canteen conversations. There’s an awful lot of wisdom in these “war stories”. A learning organisation figures out how to formalise this: Story Listening and Story-ish Conversations will help here.

Watch the conversation with Scott here:

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