Facilitator Journal | Issue #0291, February 27, 2007 ....
This week's article, "Everyone Loves a Good Story,"
was submitted by my colleague, Dennis Boyer. In this piece, Dennis tells
how storytelling is useful is almost every type of facilitation, from
helping groups think outside the box, to reinterpreting their currently
limiting stories, to helping groups move through fundamental organizational
or even societal change. He closes with some suggestions on how to make
stories work for you in under various conditions. I
hope Dennis' contribution adds a nice twist to your life story this
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Loves a Good Story
the art of storytelling
to teach, inspire, and engage your participants
in the Master Facilitator Journal have raised the issue of "lies"
in very effective ways. Sometimes lies are not the overt acts of deception
one might think. Sometimes lies are the self-deceptions and rigidly narrow
stories that one adheres to for security. A facilitator can challenge
narrow stories with liberating and provocative stories.
is useful is almost every type of facilitation, but I have found it particularly
useful in broad and multi-session facilitations where fundamental organizational
or even societal questions are on the table. If your participants are
having trouble thinking outside the box, take them outside with stories.
A first step
is understanding how their internal story confines them. Those confining
stories need to be replaced with horizon expanding stories. I have used
myth, folklore, and even science fiction when it was important to unleash
that part of them that could imagine what could be. Next thing you know,
they're thinking up other stories .
Some of you
may be thinking, "He's asking us to replace lies with fantasy, how
can that provide a solid foundation for group work?". Story can express
fundamental truths and values without having a basis in historical fact.
Sometimes they simply remind us of forgotten portions of our shared story
that in turn might provide us with a way of looking afresh at a situation.
One of my
colleagues, Jeff Prudhomme, impressed me with the idea that our type of
broad policy possibility facilitation was a matter of "making the
world safe for ambiguity". Tolerance of ambiguity is an extremely
useful skill that may be developed through stories.
Finding the "Right" Story
know that group process contains many twists and turns. This is especially
true of prolonged multi-session facilitations where participants are asked
to work through a broad overview of a subject and develop multiple approaches
to it. It is not always linear in its progression, allowing for ebb and
flow and learning. Multiple tasks and the mental shifts they require can
generate "brain lock". Each task within such a major effort
calls for its own story, with much initial emphasis on the need for an
one such setting I was bombarded with questions about my role as facilitator.
Was I the expert? Was I mediating? Who decided things? I told them that
I was a shaman from the tribe of democratic governance facilitators. My
duties, as I understood them, were to listen, to ask questions, and to
tell stories. Often my participants longed for something much deeper as
they grappled with their discussion tasks and I would remind them that
in all of our species' history it has been known to the old wise ones
that the shortest path from confusion to enlightenment was through story.
different ways of seeing are a good starting point for "describing"
what it is that we are discussing. Stories about how questions may be
asked and how answers may be posed abound in popular culture and sacred
text. Stories about consequences are present in much folklore.
Jeff has one of the best all-purpose stories to deal with brain lock,
though it works particularly well with the task of asking useful and helpful
were two priests with rather severe smoking habits. Both chain-smoked
at industrial levels, even during prayer. But they both felt bad about
it and resolved to seek guidance about it.
They both decided to write letters to the Pope. The first wrote to the
Pope and asked, "Holy Father, is it wrong to smoke while praying?".
The Pope's reply was sharply rebuking, " My son, prayer is a sacred
time and space that those with spiritual vocation defile at their peril!".
priest read the response, but was undeterred from obtaining a papal
ruling on his own situation. He wrote, " Holy Father, is it permissible
to pray while I am smoking?". The Pope kindly replied, " Dearest
Son, it is a blessed thing to uplift human activities and frailties
with the cleansing balm of prayer, blessings upon you!"
This is one
way of letting a group know that if it is not coming up with rich enough
answers to inform possibilities perhaps they have not described the situation
adequately nor asked the questions in the ways they might be asked. But
each time I tell the smoking priest story my listeners find more nuance
in it. What might have happened if a third priest had written to the Pope?
What do the answers say about mood, caprice, or outside factors? What
does it say about the irony and silliness of the human condition? Some
"sophisticates" may rankle at parables. I remind them of the
vast underground treasures found thanks to penny candles.
In the end,
I think it works best for the facilitator to work on her own story tool
kit, finding the right rhythm and cadence that fits the individual style.
I use everything from joke websites to materials from the Dalai Lama.
I am very impressed with a thoughtful work by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine
Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search
group requires a series of meetings to grapple with broad issues that
would not be well served by a rush to a single solution or even a dualistic
choice, you are in prime territory for storytelling. Here are some suggestions
on how to make stories work for you in your groups:
- Get to
know your participants sense of metaphor. What governs their sense of
how to describe the unknown or the vaguely known? That is where you
will find your participants sense of imagery and how they approach the
- Use breaks,
meals, and other informal time to bring out their individual stories
in ways that help identify what they can contribute to the group.
- Look for
ways to build the story of the group and its approach to discussions.
One way that works for me is to ask participants what it is about the
discussion topic that evokes joy or darkens their horizon.
- Use "working
documents" as periodic and tentative ways to chart the group's
narrative arc. Let them rewrite it and retell it.
a "story reserve" for tasks and turning points that can be
anticipated (getting "stuck", fatigue, digressions, conflict,
etc., the Master Facilitator Journal has been a rich source for me).
This is story Reiki or chiropractic and can realign group energy when
things are flagging. Even a "bad joke" can do this.
- Keep a
super-secret nuclear story to blow things up if that is called for and
a "shape shifter" story for those occasions when you need
to shake participants out of an unhelpfully narrow vision of you as
- Use your
wrap-up or summary or final report to tell the group's discussion story.
Description of how they got there may be as important to participants
and readers as the possibilities generated by the discussion.
facilitator works from a sense of wonder, keeps an open mind, and entertains
the notion that to assist a deep discussion is to embark on a journey
out from a familiar place and at long last return there and see it as
it has not been seen before.
the Author: Dennis Boyer is a facilitator in the public policy arena
and has written a number of collections of regional folklore. Dennis can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
How can you
use these these storytelling strategies in your next group? Any
"stories" you'd like to share that have truly worked for you?
Share yours and I'll send you all that I receive. Just reply to this email
to submit them.
Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning,
by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham
This book is to spirituality as riding a rollercoaster is to physics.
It is not a read; it is an experience. Kurtz and Ketcham have managed
to tell their own story in such a way that the reader is invited to share
in that experience. Finding this spirituality of imperfection in Alcoholics
Anonymous and the twelve-step program, K&K have scoured spiritual
writings throughout history to find the words to describe their experience.
Boldface quotes and stories color almost every page.
find the essence of the spiritual in human imperfections and failure,
in the inevitability of pain. Spirituality is not the evasion of consequences
or errors, but rather learning how to live with them. They call trying
to be perfect the most tragic human mistake. They are clear, spirituality
is found in asking the right questions, not in finding the right answers.
every reader of this book will not be able to hear it's music. Perhaps
only those who have been wounded by life, need it. Perhaps only those
who have drunk deeply of failure will find nourishment here. All I know
is that I did, and to Kurtz and Ketcham I will always be grateful. --Peter
A. Kindle, Manvel, TX--
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