Saturday, February 13, 2010

Stories That Change People

Storytelling is a time-honored way to invoke change. In the introduction to David Gordon's Therapeutic Metaphors, he writes:
"... stories, anecdotes and idioms all have... the ability to convey a message or learning about a particular problem... If the conflict within the story is similar to one you as a listener happen also to be dealing with, then the story immediately becomes significant to you... a METAPHOR... a way of speaking in which one thing is expressed in terms of another (that) throws new light on the character of what is being described.
In a powerful example of storytelling, psychologist George Burns met with a mother and her six-year-old daughter, Jessica, who'd been labeled by two psychologists as "an elective mute." Jessica spoke freely and age-appropriately at home, but would not utter a sound to anyone outside her family.

While Jessica sat on the floor drawing, Dr. Burns told her mother a story from his own childhood about a boy named Billy who was teased by the other children for his silence:
"That day the door of the cupboard at the back of the classroom was ajar and a feather duster protruded through the gap. As we filed into class, Billy's eye fell on the protruding feathers and, without thinking, he exclaimed, 'Sir, there's a hen in the cupboard!' Everyone laughed, and after that Billy spoke."
At this point Jessica handed Dr. Burns a drawing of a bird and told him it was "Tweetie."

"Who's Tweetie?" he asked.

"My canary."

Both Dr. Burns and Jessica's mother were stunned. He was the first adult Jessica had ever spoken to outside her family. "The empowerment for her to change an established pattern of behavior," he concluded, "had come not just through a story, but through one told so indirectly that it was apparently being communicated to someone else."

Stories aren't just for children. A good teaching tale can reach your clients at both conscious and unconscious levels a right-brain "zing" along with a left-brain "aha."

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