We are all the heroes and heroines of our own lives – the writers, editors, producers, directors and stars of our stories. But at work, our leading role quickly comes to an end. Why? Because in our professional lives, we take on the role of supporting character. The story is no longer about us, it’s all about the company we work for and its goals and needs.
This fine-point can be extended even further: if your role gives you clients to woo, partners to nurture or alliances to create, their needs must be at the center of your story instead of your own if you want to live your best career. And it is as true for any corporation or government as it is for you. Many entities make the mistake of thinking that they are the hero of their story. But winning businesses all know one thing – they too are supporting characters in service to the end customer who is the hero/heroine at the center of their story.
Truly adopting this rule requires a mindset shift, a letting go of who we believe ourselves to be and who we need to be to succeed. But if you manage to keep the characters around you on page one of your work story, you’ll improve outcomes every time. Here are three ways thinking like a writer will help you to shine:
1. BE MINDFUL
As you serve the greater good at work – and ideally, as all the characters around you do the same – study your co-workers. Attempt to be an impartial spectator or a wry bystander – just like a writer would. Think about what role they play: for example, is your boss a mentor or an antagonist? What makes them successful in this role and what might undermine them? What are their underlying motivations and drivers? What is their real agenda? As in any story, the truth is always hidden from you, so watch for signs, acknowledge your gut feelings and listen more to what is unsaid than said.
And like every author, tap into what is universal about this person’s story: is there any aspect of their experience that you can relate to? Is there anything about them that generates empathy or sympathy? This type of understanding and sensitivity will allow you to connect and deepen your relationships, something critical to success.
2. BE EXPANSIVE
Remember that outside of work, everyone around you is the hero/heroine of their own lives, just like you. They are at the center of their own action, on their own journey, with their own quest. So if you want to win, recognize that every single person wants to have input and to be involved. Leave space for others in your story to bring them along with you.
This applies to co-workers and bosses, vendors and freelancers, customers and clients or whoever else you interact with and rely on to reach your goals. Switch to a “we” when communicating with them so that they feel united with you and your ideas, and with what you and your company want to achieve. Give credit to others freely and be sure to call them out by name when you mention their input. By leaving room for them to contribute to your story, they will feel good – and that will help you to ultimately win.
3. BE PERSONAL
Communicating an idea and its significance in a way that other people can grasp is what writers spend their lives doing. To apply your storytelling skills most effectively and build relationships at the same time, you want to:
- Thread your own story to the larger stories of your company and its clients, partners and customers.
- Uncover the commonalities between your story and your company’s (or any company you’re in conversation with).
Bringing the right personal sound bytes into a business conversation helps the other person understand who you are and recognize your value. Adding the personal to your business storytelling helps to underscore your essence, ethos or experience to heighten your emotional connection and relatability. The goal here is to be vulnerable while being discreet and fully in control of what you actually reveal. This is not at all about oversharing on a personal level – that could be counterproductive in a business situation. Rather, it is about sharing a story that relates to what you’re talking about and humanizes you. You want to share enough to achieve a united bond without losing sight of the point you are trying to reinforce or the result that you want to achieve.
And do the same for any company you want to talk to. Whenever you are in a messaging mode, your goal is straightforward: make the other person see how you can help them achieve the outcome they want. For example, if you are pitching a prospective client, find a way to join your or your company’s story to their story and show how it aligns. This mindset will bring you the accolades and rewards you deserve.
Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.
Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention. She’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media chief innovation officer (CIO), a leader of brands like ELLE Décor and Metropolitan Home, an industry consultant and throughout a creative pivot that led to the award-winning memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”
The experience of becoming an author illuminated the path to her second book, “Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life.” Now, Deborah combines her business and creative expertise in professional development workshops that improve outcomes and help everyone invent, reinvent and live up to their career potential.