As consultants, we are like plumbers in many ways.

  • People typically call us when they have an issue and they’re stuck
  • We have a toolbox of tools that we use to help fix problems
  • When we do our job right, we make things flow more smoothly

Five Major Skills of Consultants

As consultants, we have many tools in our toolbox. The main five Major Skills in our toolbox include:

  1. Consulting
  2. Coaching
  3. Training
  4. Mentoring
  5. Selling

Depending on how we read the client, the context, and the culture, we can choose the best Major Skill for the job. A consultant who relies too heavily on only one Major Skill runs the risk of being unsuccessful. For example, the skill consulting may be relatively ineffective while coaching is much more effective for some clients.

Inside these 5 Major Skills are dozens of Micro Skills such as: Facilitating meetings, active listening, writing requirements, constructing a gap analysis, asking powerful questions, and conflict resolution. Storytelling is one of these Micro Skills.

Storytelling: One of the Most Important Micro Skills

There are two reasons Storytelling may be considered as one of the most important of these Micro Skills:

  1. Storytelling spans across all 5 of the Major Skills
  2. Storytelling has one of the greatest impacts on our clients

A Story About Storytelling…

One of our clients asked me to send them a particular PowerPoint slide that I had shown them previously. It was a slide with an animation of airplanes taking off and landing that I use to tell a story explaining how to manage a PMO. The client liked it so much they wanted to use it to share their vision of the PMO with other people. So I emailed the slide along with the story in bullet-point form.

I was wondering how long ago I told the client that story. I checked my notes and saw that I had told them that story 9 months ago. It goes to show that telling a 3-minute story can make such an impact that even 9 months later, they were still using that story as the basis of their PMO strategy. That is the power of stories. Notice how I used a story to demonstrate how impactful stories can be! You can see this slide and read the “airport story” as way to manage a PMO on our Airports and WIP Limits blog at  https://cambriasolutions.com/airports-and-wip-limits/

A Good Story is Emotional & Logical

Before we talk about why storytelling is so effective, it’s helpful to understand how the human brain works. Psychologists have identified two “systems” that operate in the human brain.

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Most people tend to make their decisions using System 1 (emotional). After people make an emotional decision, they may rationalize their decision by looking for facts that support it and ignoring facts that might conflict with it. Emotional decisions are made very quickly because we rely on instinct. Think: “If it feels good, do it.”

System 2 (logical) is based on reasoning, evidence, and rational thinking. Logical decisions look for facts and proof. It operates much more slowly because it takes time to work through the logical evidence. Think: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

A good story plays on both systems: emotion and logic.

One Final Note: Stories Are Like Salt

Adding a little bit can make a huge difference, but dumping in too much can be disastrous.

Our goal is not to write New York Times bestsellers in fiction. Our goal is to share just enough storytelling to authentically connect with our audience.

Whenever I think about storytelling, I think about the first holiday party I went to in California. I had moved to Sacramento in mid-December for work and on Tuesday evening of my first week there was a holiday party. Since I was brand new to the firm, I didn’t really recognize anyone. I introduced myself to people, I told them my story of just having moved from Dallas to Sacramento, and I made connections. After about 10 minutes, I noticed that I still didn’t recognize anyone in the house. Not a single person. My heart sunk. I sheepishly asked the guy I was talking to and discovered the person’s house I was supposed to be at was next door!

The lesson I learned was that I was able to instantly make connections with total strangers for one reason: I recounted my story of my recent move to California. The story paved the way for instant connections with people. Whether we’re in the wrong house at a holiday party or getting teams on board new strategies, telling stories is a great way to make a sincere connection with coworkers, clients, or anyone.