See how easily you can tell and receive better stories with this one simple trick

March 13, 2017

Think for a second about the stories you hear and tell at work. They’re all around you—in email messages, letters, conversations, and meetings. Sometimes they’re awful. Sometimes they’re helpful. Do you wish they were better?

Privileging the sender

When people think of storytelling, they’re often mesmerized by the TELLING part. Either someone is good, or their not.

When we focus our attention too much on the TELLING part of stories, we give too much credit to the sender or the speaker of the story. I don’t know about you, but when I’m listening to stories, I’m thinking, processing, questioning, and engaging with the other person sharing—even if they’re not in the same room with me! It’s not about the sender, it’s about my questions and my story.

Test yourself: have you ever laughed at a movie, email, text message, gif, or book? If yes, you’ve processed and engaged with a story without the “story-teller” being the room. This is why I’m not satisfied with the word “storytelling” or “telling stories.” It privileges the sender (the teller) too much and doesn’t value or acknowledge the active listener or reader involved.


Because storytelling gives too much power one person, I want to propose a change in story vocabulary. We should start using the phrase story sharing to describe what happens when we exchange stories or “take in” stories from others.

“Storysharing” is what makes us uniquely human. Experts in the craft Shawn Coyne and Jonathan Gottschall explain that stories are what separate humans from animals. We are the only species whose attention and lifestyle is driven by the stories we hear, tell, and long to make happen.

I’m not talking about the next great American Novel or a highly creative “global story” with a perfect plot. I’m interested in the conversations that happen at the dinner table. News shared in the break room. The dialogue happening after a great weekend or vacation.

Many of us are “story thinking” all the time. We’re on the lookout for good stories to pass along. We are appalled and worked up by the negative stories we can’t seem to escape.

Give good stories

If you’re like me and want to hear more and better stories from people, you must embrace that getting better stories starts with you. Hearing better stories from humans in your life starts with demonstrating or sharing the kind of stories you like to hear, and staying consistent. In other words, to get good stories, you have to GIVE good stories consistently.

To get good stories, you have to GIVE good stories.

When people see or think about you, they’re going to match a specific kind of story they know you like to hear, read, or watch. If you hate negative stories—but share them all the time—you may find people are likely to share negative stories with you, since that’s what you’re known for.

Change your story if you want to get better stories

Change your story. Do you want to be known as the guy or girl who’s always complaining about the weather and traffic? Stop talking about the stuff you don’t want to hear about.

Share something positive and solution-focused

Sharing negative stories is easy. Anyone can point out what is wrong with the world and what needs to be changed at your company or workplace. New research from Harvard Business Review shows that sharing negative stories impacts your happiness and productivity: “Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”

HBR recommends turning off news alerts, schedule moments of silence, and consuming positive media like Huffington Post’s Impact series or CNN’s new impact series. I recommend checking out Great Big Story.

Listen to others with your eyes if you want to resonate

When you are sharing stories, you’ll find that others respond with stories of their own or something that relates. When this happens, listen with your eyes. Research shows that eyes are the window to the soul: “You can predictably tell someone’s emotions from their gaze”.

If you want your story to resonate deeply with another person, “eye contact is the crucial first step for resonance, a term psychologists use to describe a person’s ability to read someone else’s emotions. It’s also important for creating a feeling of connection.” (When Giving Critical Feedback, Focus on Your Nonverbal Cues)

Use your eyes, but don’t be creepy

Research from psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean shows that eye contact isn’t always a good thing. “When someone stares at you, without the context it can be difficult to know if they love you or want to kill you. A long look displays an intense feeling, but on its own you can’t tell which one. That’s one of the great mysteries of body language: so much depends on context.”

Psychological Science shows evidence that too much eye contact might provoke resistance to persuasion. This is because eye contact can tend to signal dominance. So when sharing stories, stay humble and give the right kind of eye contact.


  1. Share stories. Don’t just tell other people your stories, anticipate an exchange of stories and actively engage. Be a story sharer.
  2. Share positive stories. There is already enough trouble in today to take care of itself. Take time to find a good story worth sharing, rather than the easy way out. This will increase your productivity and mood…and the mood and productivity of others!
  3. Change your story. If you don’t like the stories people are sharing with you, change the stories you share. You’ll more likely start hearing better stories from the people around you.
  4. Listen with your eyes. Want your story to resonate? It turns out that eyes are the window to the soul and eyes are what lead to better resonance.
  5. Give the right amount of eye contact. Too much of the wrong eye contact will demonstrate dominance and intensity you may not mean to share.

What kind of stories do you like to share?

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