How Do You Know What Your Team is Thinking?

How to Know What Your Team is Really Thinking

Are you listening to your team
and the stories they tell?

During times of change and uncertainty, your team is desperate for information. They’re looking for the story behind the story. They’re thirsty to listen to anyone who knows what’s REALLY  going on. And in the absence of information, they’ll find their own stories and share them widely.

Most of the time, those stories are 10X worse than the truth you’re afraid to share. 

Yes, get your story together to explain what you’re doing and why. Hold town hall meetings. Conduct great skip level meetings.  Walk around as much as possible, AND don’t overlook the importance of listening to the stories your team members are telling one another.

Simon’s Story

I met Simon, a millennial Austrian engineer on a recent diving trip. He’d quit his well-paying engineering job and was on a 3-month backpacking adventure in South America. Curious about what gives someone the courage to just quit a job with nothing lined up when they return, I asked to hear his story.

Our company got bought by a Canadian-owned multinational company. All they care about is profits and reducing costs. They’ve created all these remote teams without much training or communication and I now work for a German boss who is a complete #@%&@$#.

They cancelled the Christmas Party!

You’re a leadership person, don’t you think that’s a bad sign? And then right after they cancelled the Christmas party, they had a big meeting where they brought us all in to talk about how great it was going to be and all this rah-rah about being one team. They had money for that, but not for the Christmas party?

This company is ruthless. So I quit. I’m going to travel and when I come back, I’m going to find a job for a smaller company that really cares.

I asked him what he would have wanted to hear in that big meeting.

The truth about where we are going. Transparency about the vision and cost-cutting efforts. How and why decisions are being made and how I will be impacted. Is that too much to ask?

In the absence of information, Simon had built his own story of bloodthirsty opportunistic grinches, which of course was validated by the stories of his peers–many of whom are still there looking for more evidence their story is true.

It might be. Or maybe not.

I don’t know about this company or the leadership motives behind their communication strategy. But, I’ve worked with enough senior level teams to know that there is another side of the story.

I asked Simon if he had shared why he had really left.

“No one asked.”

Sarah’s Story

And now what I heard from Sarah, just the other day.

I was brought in to do some “brand ambassador” training. The focus was how to help frontline employees provide extraordinary customer service and represent this premium brand.

The minute I walked into the room, I knew there was no way we could start there. So after some introductions and some fun, I asked, “What’s really scaring you about what’s happening in the company right now?”

Sarah spoke up first:

The only people who care about the customer around here are the people in this room. Ever since the merger (8 years ago) it’s been all downhill and now this new IT system is the final straw. Now we won’t have any choice but to be “corporate.” We’ve lost all ability to do the right thing for our customers.

Now this time, I DID know the other side of the story. I understood how and why the new IT system would improve the customer experience. I’d engaged in hours of discussions about the importance of extraordinary customer service as their key differentiator. In fact, that’s why I had been brought in. The senior team’s number one priority was differentiation around an extraordinary customer experience.

But that story doesn’t matter. Until we understand the story Sarah and her friends were sharing.

“Why do you stay here?” I asked.

George spoke up next, “because these people are like family, but you can bet I’ve stopped wearing my company shirt to the bowling alley. And if someone sees me at the grocery store with it on, I make up a story of winning the shirt in a golf tournament.”

It was only after hearing their very real stories, that we could begin the real work of transforming the customer experience, digging into the AND of personalized service and the value of new systems to take that experience to the next level.

Why the Brain Loves Stories

I know you are working to frame the story you want your team to hear. It’s also so vital to slow down and be really open to hearing the stories they are telling one another.

Paul Zak has done some fantastic research that matters when it comes to your culture and how your team processes change.

The first part of the answer (as to why the brain loves stories) is that as social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts. In the absence of information, your team is more likely to make up a story far worse than even your most difficult bad news.

Do your best to be as much of a story listener as a storyteller.

Hear their stories. Listen well. Share yours. Listen again.

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Cathy Fyock

The World Needs Your Story (Cathy Fyock)

Winning Well Connection Reflection

We first met Cathy when she attended our workshop on how to co-author a book. Cathy is an amazing storyteller and story listener– and we enjoyed working with her audience to share our story in a recent webinar. Cathy lights up the room with her enthusiastic approach and warm spirit.

Why are stories so powerful?

I’ll answer that question by telling a story. In this tale we meet a student who is being taught by his teacher through stories. One day the student asks, “Teacher, why do you always instruct about truth by telling stories?”

Click the image for more information about Cathy’s book.

The teacher thinks for a moment, then replies, “Bring me water.”

The student finds a large brass bowl, fills it with water, and brings it to the teacher. “Here, teacher, is your water.”

To which the teacher responds: “Why do you bring me a brass bowl when all I asked for is water?”

And that’s how it is with storytelling. The story is the conveyance for truth. It helps us remember what is important, what is vital. Our stories hold life lessons.

So, why don’t YOU tell your stories? Why aren’t you speaking, training, and writing?

Many of you are doing amazing things. You are helping your organizations develop new products and services. You grow workers into leaders. You develop cultures that foster innovation. And you are touching the lives of your employees each day in meaningful ways.

So why don’t you tell your stories? Why isn’t the world benefiting from your wisdom and insights?

There is a wonderful story about Gandhi that applies here. As Gandhi was boarding a train that was leaving the station, his sandal fell off. Unable to rescue the sandal, he dropped the sandal from the other foot. When asked why, he said, “Now, the poor man who finds the first shoe will be able to have a use for the pair.”

By doing good work in your organization, you have dropped one shoe. By solving organizational challenges, you have dropped a shoe. By making teams more cohesive and by enabling change, you have dropped a single shoe. But now you must drop the other shoe. You must tell your story, you must share your truth—through writing, speaking, and training—so that others can use your wisdom and knowledge.

Does anybody want to read my story?

Some of you may still be hesitant about telling your story. I was meeting with a potential client who wanted to write her book, and toward the end of our conversation she turned to me and asked, “But does anybody really want to read my story?”

I responded, “Yes! Yes!” Why did I feel so convinced that her story was needed? I thought a lot about that, and I decided that I needed to write a blog about it. The result was “Cathy’s Credo” which I communicate on my website and is a tool I share with all my clients and audiences. And I’d like to share a shortened version of it with you here:

Remember, you were created with a purpose, and when you tell your stories you allow others to bear witness to the purpose of your life. Your stories are gifts to others: the gifts of joy, encouragement, insight, understanding, hope. Telling your story is holy work. You know, the world needs your story. We have not solved all the leadership problems in our world. We don’t have all the answers to how we create a better world.

Finally, I’d like to share my Writers’ Pledge with you. I developed this at the suggestion of one of my clients who has developed her own pledge. Here’s what mine says:

I pledge that I will use my power to make today a fantastic day. I will block writing time on my calendar, and I will honor that time commitment and hold it as sacred, creative time.

I pledge that I will not allow my negative voice to guide my thinking or stop my creative process. I will surround myself with people who love me and support my writing.

I pledge to tell my story—to share my experiences—with authenticity and without apology. I know that in telling my story I can provide others with the gifts of hope, wisdom, and joy.

I pledge that I will continue to work so that I gain clarity and focus for my readers, audiences, and clients so that I can continue to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

I believe that each of us can continue to make the world a better place, one word at a time. The world needs your story.

Tell your story.

Winning Well Reflection

One of the most effective ways to build a connection with your people and to help them understand what winning well looks like in your team and organization is through strategic story-telling. Cathy’s encouragement to share your stories will help you build trust, connection, and credibility as people see and feel what success looks like.