Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people expressing versions of the same phrase:

“That’s an interesting question, Ron.”

At first I didn’t think much about it. But as I heard the question more frequently, I started wondering, “Why do they find my questions interesting?”

I kept coming back to the same answer: Storytellers are masters of making things interesting. Consider that a storyteller can keep you staring at a flickering screen for two hours in a darkened room filled with strangers. Story has the power to keep a group of squirrelly children fixated on a teacher reading a book to them. And story is the reason you’ll spend days or weeks digesting a three hundred page novel.

You see, storytellers know how to actuate the neurons responsible for a piquing a listener’s interest. And once you know this secret, you can too. So, do you want to know how to do the same?

It’s simple. Violate people’s expectations. Show them something that they didn’t expect. Zig when they expect you to zag. Whisper when they expect you to scream at the top of your lungs. Stand when they expect you to duck.

All stories start when someone’s expectations are violated and it can be tracked back to Kenn Adam’s trusty Story Spine:

Once upon a time,

Everyday,

Then one day,

And because of that,

And because of that,

Until finally,

And ever since that day.

 

Then one day separates ho-hum from interesting. Let’s try it out.

Once upon a time, Jane would drive to work

Everyday, she’d arrive on time

Then one day, she…

  • Got a flat tire
  • Decided to take a detour
  • Got delayed by a rogue herd of goats

All stories start by violating someone’s expectations. And there’s a corollary to this rule: Anger piques when our metaphors are violated.

If you find yourself getting heated, it’s likely because someone violated a fundamental belief that you live by. Maybe you expected someone to act a certain way and yet they didn’t. Perhaps someone cut in line, spoke to you condescendingly, or acted recklessly, thus placing you or others in unnecessary danger. If someone violates a metaphor that guides your personal definition of right and wrong, your natural instinct will be to react swiftly and emotionally. 

So, why are people finding my questions interesting? I guess because I’m injecting my experience as a storyteller into the conversation. I’m constantly trying to understand the motivations of the players involved. If a long-time satisfied customer suddenly changes behavior by making odd emotional requests, rather than reacting defensively, I’ll ask my colleagues questions like:

  • What are they trying to accomplish with this request?
  • What is the real source of their frustration?
  • What core beliefs might we have violated accidentally?

I’m finding that this line of questioning helps my coworkers not only address the problem from a new perspective, but they also start asking their own interesting questions.

 

Photo Credit: Photograph of Army Air Corps pilots Maj. Reuben Fleet and Lt. George Boyle on May 15, 1918 ; National Postal Museum, Benjamin Lipsner Collection. Photographer: Unknown.

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