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People Who Blend Storytelling In Their Life Live More Awesome

People Who Blend Storytelling In Their Life Live More Awesome

If you can tell a better story about yourself, you will live a better life. I’m living proof of that. Seven years into my marriage, I felt stuck in reverse. My husband and I were living a safe, status quo, all-American story – decent jobs, good kids and a roof overhead. But it failed to satisfy. Deep down we wanted so much more. And that “so much more” had nothing to do with a fat paycheck or a big home in the suburbs – we wanted our lives to be an unfolding adventure in pursuit of things we loved. So we decided to rewrite the script of our lives and invite some adventure in.

It came at a high cost – we quit our jobs, put our house on the market and sold everything in it. We also moved 4,000 miles apart to gain clarity. But the reward has been great – my husband is back in school at the age of 42 while I reinvent myself and my career. We feel fully alive as we live out a story that’s 100 percent authentically our own.

There is so much power in story. If you need help reframing the story of your life but don’t know where to begin, take your cue from The Moth. When it comes to storytelling, they do it best. Here’s why incorporating their techniques will help you gain the guidance you need to walk in your truth.

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1.  You may not have an epic story but no matter how small, it’s significant.

When The Moth storytellers step up to the mic, they assume the air of quiet confidence that everyone has a story worth telling. Yes, there’s the writer who moved to Jerusalem to be a part of the peace process but there’s also the daughter of a stripper who learned some cool life lessons from her free-spirited mother. Every story is worth listening to.

2. You’ll be tempted to give an intro but start with the hook instead.

If your beginning is bad, no one will listen to the end. So make your beginning bold. In my seven years as a radio broadcaster, how I framed my stories changed one day when consultant Tracy Johnson shared, “If you don’t start a story with a good hook, 50 percent of your audience will tune out immediately.” It’s true.

3. You might want to get stuck in the conflict zone but a good story ends with overcoming.

Storyteller extraordinaire Donald Miller says the premise of any good story involves conflict you must overcome, but it’s the end of the story, the overcoming, that truly inspires. Only you have the power to craft that ending. Think through how you want your story to end. The Moth states, “Your last line should be clear in your head before you start.”

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4. Consider this: What would your story sound like if you spoke from an authentic place, forgetting about pleasing your listening audience?

I think you’ll find as you share honestly from the heart, you’ll connect authentically with other people. Storytelling Tip #6 from The Moth is: No standup routines. The world isn’t a stage where you get to be a funnyman sharing your best zingers. The world is a place hungry for people who desire deep connection.

5. Your life is far from perfect but that just means it’s more interesting in scope and depth.

As you rehearse your story “Moth-style,” you’ll hold your own life right up to the light and realize it’s beautiful because of its fractures – not in spite of them. The illusion of perfection is not “Moth-worthy.” Case in point: the story of road rage that landed a new mom in jail. Totally imperfect. But crazy interesting.

6. You need to save your preaching because there’s no “moral of the story.”

The quickest way to make your audience snooze is by talking down to them. It’s insulting and fails to ring with truth. No one has the monopoly on truth. The Moth recently featured a tour guide who confronted racism at work and a man addicted to cookies! They each tell equally compelling stories because we’re all a work in progress on a journey towards wholeness.

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7. You might want to stage your life but you’ve got to go with the flow.

Whether you’re at a networking event or giving a presentation in the boardroom, it helps to have bullet points in your mind to keep you on track, but you need to flex and switch gears if need be. The Moth instructs people to imagine they’re “at a dinner party, not a deposition.” No scripts are allowed at “the Moth.” No papers. No props.

8. You know what you have to gain but what do you have to lose?

A good story comes at a cost. The Moth believes unless your story has some stakes, it’s not worth telling.The most memorable stories involve great risk and the potential for great reward. They involve transformation. Deep emotional truth. Vulnerability. Risking a broken heart. Going for broken to chase a dream.

9. Lighten up a little – life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies but it sure isn’t all bad, either.

Practice gratitude in the little things. Once you pay attention to details you ordinarily overlook in the course of your day, it might wake you up to a full-on flow of a thousand things to be grateful for. Even the darkest story shared on The Moth weaves in humor and moments of levity.

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10. Practice does not make perfect – it makes for perfectly imperfect.

The temptation is always there to memorize line for line to recite a script with a steel-trap memory. But that’s not real, is it? And if something isn’t real, it won’t resonate. I’ve stood onstage after sweating out a speech word-for-word…only to have it fall flat. Why? Because it’s contrived. Should you practice? Absolutely. But don’t spend the bulk of your time manufacturing an image that’s dishonest.

11. Venting is not fuel for a great story – leave your anger out of it.

You’ve got anger issues? So does 99 percent of the population. This fails to intrigue or inspire. If you need to let off steam, call a shrink. Then get back to work on telling a story worth listening to. No one wants to hear a monologue spewing hatred. Most of us can get that by walking down the street. Aim higher for your sake – and everyone else’s.

12. It’s your story – not your friend’s story.

This is Rule #4 for everyone who submits a pitch to The Moth. You don’t get to hijack the stories of your loved ones and pass it off as your own. Have the courage to live your own story and tell it with heart. The greatest weapon you have against self-doubt lies in the narrative you’ll create to communicate your truth. The most powerful story you’ll ever tell is yours and yours alone.

Featured photo credit: El Nariz via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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