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Leaders & Stories: Thin Line Between Manipulation & Truthfulness

Leaders & Stories: Thin Line Between Manipulation & Truthfulness

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Published by Terrence Gargiulo
Stories are influential. They strike our emotions and the shortest distance between two people is a story. In this white paper I answer a question I often get about the relationship between stories, manipulation, and truthfulness.
Stories are influential. They strike our emotions and the shortest distance between two people is a story. In this white paper I answer a question I often get about the relationship between stories, manipulation, and truthfulness.

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Published by: Terrence Gargiulo on Sep 11, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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I thought I would take a moment to share a recent question I got from an attendee of a recent webinar Shawn Callahan from Anecdote and I did on leadership. The question deals with manipulation and truthfulness of stories. Here is Davids question in his own words and the response I emailed. Id love to hear peoples thoughts on the questions raised. It!s a rich and ver" important question # lots of room here for deep reflection # so please add "our voice...Here!s the question$
 I found myself later thinking of what was said about plausibility in stories. Perhaps it was a casual comment, somewhat unrelated to the main topic, but I believe that it's important to deepen into the issue of "manipulating" through storytelling. When I talk to people about how to improve communication and training skills at work, and explain how  storytelling works, I sometimes get asked whether that's not plainly deceiving, as, in a way, it creates a parallel reality where facts match the storyteller's beliefs, values and messages. ust as in political propaganda, as they point out.!his is a uestion I have some trouble answering, as I tend to appeal to personal ethics but some people find this argument too weak.
David Gutiérrez
Stories can function as weapons. There are countless e%amples of how people abuse the power of tapping into the emotions and imaginations of others to coercivel" manipulate their constructs of realit". Clear violations such as con artists are eas" to classif". However& the question is not a black or white one ' thus wh" I quoted (ark Twain& )sometimes "ou have to lie a little bit to tell the truth.* At the end of this message I!ll share with "ou a traditional tale that was one of m" mentor!s signature stories.+" their nature stories are fluid. Stories overlap memories with the conte%t of the moment. I find stories in collages and clusters to be more truthful than pinning the entiret" of a message in a single stor". All the greatest stories are vast little universes with an orbit of small stor" fragments. The depth and veracit" of stories is more easil" perceived when scanning the pattern and intention of stories in pro%imit" with one another. I am naturall" distrustful of single isolated large perfect stories with clean beginning& middles& and ends and unmistakable stor" arcs. In man" instances these stories have alread" been warped around the gravit" of a pre#digested message. Stories are creative acts and furthermore I view them as co#creative stages on which themes& drama& and meanings emerge in a process of co#creation. The stor" is onl" one small part of the ke". The decoding and collaborative sense making space generated b" telling a stor" to trigger the stories of others is sacred. (" e%perience has been that when this space opens up& stor"telling and listening is authentic& deep& and responsive to the needs of the moment. The space falls apart when listening ceases and an" one person returns to advancing a monocular agenda.Stories told in the moment will adapt themselves to the language& vocabular"& and e%perience of listeners. It is a mark of an integrated stor"teller to share stories in a wa" fitting to the audience. If that means elaborating upon an aspect of the stor" or coloring it with a nuance of detail previousl" untold or which stretches the factualit" than I do not view this as either coercive or manipulative.
I feel "our instincts of asking people to become aware of their intentions are a marvelous starting point. Stories allow us to imagine parado%es and contradictions. So I feel that if we become wrapped up in equating honest" and integrit" with authenticit" we miss the richness of what stories have to offer us.I hope m" response is of some help to "ou.,ow here!s a classic stor" to add to our discussion$

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Terrence Gargiulo added this note
Folks might find this short video a good addition to these thoughts: https://vimeo.com/11369444
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