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Storytelling is Great For Kids, Not for Accountability

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who goes on and on and on, piling on new details until the focus of the conversation is completely lost? This kind of storytelling can distort workplace conversations and make it harder to clarify who is accountable for what.

As a listener, you may not be sure how to handle it. You don’t want to be rude and interrupt, so maybe you just stand there, only half-listening, while you’re daydreaming about the weekend or planning what you’re going to have for dinner. After awhile, maybe you lose patience and jump in and cut the person off.

Unfortunately, neither approach fosters accountability. And instead of the conversation bringing two people closer together on an idea, it drives a wedge between them. The talker may resent being interrupted or sensing that the other person isn’t listening. The listener may resent how much time the conversation is taking, or feel bored or uncomfortable.

As a leader, the key to dealing with storytelling is to address it before it happens. An upfront agreement with your people is the perfect place to draw a boundary around storytelling.

An upfront agreement is a pact established at the beginning of a relationship–or at the beginning of a new phase in a relationship. It allows people to have an ongoing conversation about how they want to work together. The agreement signifies a mutual understanding about responsibilities, expectations and communication.

“We all tend to go on and on sometimes,” you might say, “and I want to make you a deal. If it feels like you’re storytelling, I would like to have the right to call a time out and tell you, ‘I got it. You can stop now.’”

Commit that you will recap what the person has said, to reflect back what you heard. Agree that the other person has the right to challenge you if he or she doesn’t think you’ve really gotten the message. In that case, the story continues until you break in again with another recap.

It’s a pretty amazing idea, isn’t it? Have you ever heard anyone do this? Imagine the time this could save! Imagine how much more efficient and honest your conversations will be!

Storytelling is wasting your time and interfering with effective communication and accountability in your workplace. Acknowledge it. Plan for it. Put a stop to it – now.

If you want to stop the storytelling and get down to business in your organization, Alan M. Dobzinski is a masterful meeting facilitator who can make it happen. Contact him now to get started.