Tell a story to lead someone safely through the point you want to make

Most people don't like to think about how they communicate because it's both scary and awkward. On the one hand, they feel unclear and not effective. On the other, they feel like they are pitching all the time in an effort to manipulate people into thinking or doing something. What they want is to be authentic and collaborative and also clear and compelling. And they'd like it all to be effortless, because evaluating one's communication is like staring too long at the mirror.

Of course, all this concern with being authentic instead of thinking through how we want to communicate comes with a price. When we are authentic, we are more likely to say something that stops our message from reaching the people we want to reach. We let ourselves get away with being unclear; we make it hard to imagine the things we describe; and when it goes wrong, we say, "I did my best."

Your best communication is not authentic; it doesn't just happen. It happens because instead of accepting the way your brain and mind show up in your language, you make a conscious choice to shape what you say so that another person can understand it and be engaged by it. This person is never quite like you, so what is clear and engaging to them requires that you choose a communication strategy. This leads to being responsible for the results you get with your communication.

You might not think I'm telling you a story here. But the first part of this story was about someone who values authenticity and who gets drawn into a situation where the first words that come to mind are both authentic and unclear or even hurtful. You can fill in the details of the story, because you know people who have hurt you or mislead you because they blurted out whatever they thought was true. You followed their words and you ended up on your own and lost on rocky ground.

A story is an effort to make a complicated point in a form that takes advantage of the way other people are already thinking. It requires that one be aware of making an impression and shape the communication to engage the reader and help them move through information. It's manipulative in the same way that holding someone's hand to guide them over rough terrain is manipulative.


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