Whose Story Matters Most?

I traffic in stories. To be clear, all of us do. We are born into a story—family, society, faith—that has been going on a long time. As months unwind into years, the child becomes a teenager and the teenager an adult. Early on, we live in the “family of origin” story unaware of all the influences people, geography, faith, and significant others have on us. But in time, we craft our own narrative. The script’s foundation was set in childhood. The characters, values, settings, and meaning of what follows are largely our own doing. In a word, we become our life’s playwright.

When meeting with a prospect or client, whose story matters most? You may not have thought about that question before, but you must. My hunch is that, for most of us, we assume the other person buys readily into our story. We are the “advisor” and they have come to us seeking “advice” which we can unknowingly dispense with little regard for our hearers. No judgment here, but the temptation is great to write new relationships into our story because that’s our advisor job and how we get paid.

But, perhaps there is a better way? What if we re-programmed the discovery process to begin and continue with the client’s story? Rather than “client-stepping-into-our-story,” we embrace “advisor-stepping-into-client-story.” In other words, we refuse to front-load the conversation with all our planning and investment advice or expertise. Why not gently ask the other person to unpack the story that has brought him or her to us?

In his brief but provocative book, Humble Inquiry, retired MIT professor Edgar Schein cogently demonstrates how changing a conversation from “telling” to “asking” transfers power to the teller. Intentionally, Schein would argue, we who are “tellers” become “askers,” shifting power from us and our story’s importance to the other—the prospect, client, friend, spouse. By “asking,” we convey genuine interest in how that other person showed up on our doorstep swaddled in a basket full of relationships, statements, confusions, dreams, and fears. We sit in their theatre taking in a complex, story-filled individual who is asking us to step into the next act of their play!

Let me just say it: our business is about them, not us! It’s their story that matters, their dreams that long for expression, their fears begging for assurance, their broken places needing healing. They sit in our space, but we must be intentional about sitting where they sit, feeling what they feel, dreaming what they dream.

At the end of the day or even a career, our story will matter more, be more, include more, celebrate more because we stepped into the stories of others first. When that happens, when we look up and discover we have become part of the story we first witnessed in a discovery conversation, advisory transformation occurs and everything that follows changes into wonder! Do you want to grow your business? Become an asker, joining the cast of another’s story. Do so, and you’ll have all the business you can handle.

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