Bringing Compelling Stories to Life

Making the connection; how stories influence our decisions

My wife has a pair of black high heel shoes and every time she wore them she would tell me what a fantastic buy they were, how she always gets compliments on them and that she can wear them for hours and they never hurt her feet. To me they are a nice pair of heels but I couldn’t understand why she kept justifying them to me. After the third or fourth time she did this I decided to Google Jimmy Choo… these were a very expensive pair of shoes!

At the same time I read a piece of research that says that in most cases, people make decisions based on emotion and then justify them rationally. So the next time my wife wore the shoes and began telling me why they are great, I told her I now understood why she kept telling me how good the shoes are. They were an emotional purchase and very expensive so you feel the need to justify them when you wear them. She looked at me for a moment and then said, “I think you’re right, that explains why you drive an Alfa Romeo”.

So if people make decisions based on emotion, what are the implications in a business environment? The biggest challenge I have discovered is that in business we use intellectual rationalization as our primary influencing tool. We say things like “We are the biggest”, “we are the best…” and we use all sorts of facts and figures to back this up. I call this being “Intellectually Challenged” and it is flawed for two reasons:

Firstly, facts and figures can be easily challenged. For many years I worked with the top 4 Commercial Real Estate agencies in Australia and each one of them told me they were the number one. So I asked each of them how they determined they were number one? One told me that they had the most listings while another said they had the most offices. The third agency said they had the most listings of any of the agencies and the final agency told me they were number one because they had the highest in sales. In fact, the 5th largest agency also told me they were number one because they had the largest global footprint. What this demonstrates is that an intellectual argument can be made for each of these agencies depending on how you chose to measure, but each claim could be easily challenged.

Secondly, even if you are able to convince someone intellectually, they will often take no action because they have no emotional reason to do so. Take smoking for example. We all know the health risks. It even says on the packet “Smoking Kills” and there is now a picture of a person’s rotten teeth or their leg falling off. Despite this, many people struggle to kick the habit because although they get it intellectually, there’s no emotional reason to give up. And yet a woman who has smoked for most of her life is often able to kick the habit the instant she finds out she is pregnant because she has an emotional reason to do so.

The answer to creating the emotional connection is through story. The reason is we use stories in our personal lives to communicate. When we meet someone new we typically share our story, where we are from, what we do, experiences from our life. Depending on how well we relate to each other a connection is made. As stories are the way we communicate, when we do it effectively they have the power to move people and effect real change. That’s why we call it a moving story.

That’s not to say that facts and figures aren’t important, they are. It’s just that first we need to connect emotionally with audiences. If we can do that, then people will automatically find intellectual reasons to justify their decision every time they put on those expensive pair of high heels… or get into their Alfa Romeo.