The value of I-know-what-you are-thinking stories


I recently gave a workshop for senior executives about „Storytelling for leaders“. Senior managers as they are, do not have a lot of time. So the very first thing they wanted to know was what the most important story tool for them would be.

Of course there is no such thing as the most important story tool. However, knowing that leaders are often in negotiation or sales talks, I said that one of the most important leadership stories is the “I-know-what-you are-thinking story”.

This is basically a story that repeats the other person`s concerns or objections.

Why? When you tell this story, it makes people wonder if you are reading their minds and most often they appreciate it. Also if you name their objections first before they do, you disarm them. You basically steal their biggest argument against your standpoint and defuse their concerns without direct confrontation.

This story disarms and de-escalates

If you have done your homework on the group or person you wish to influence it is relatively easy to identify their potential objections to your message. E.g.: In my undergrad years I had this business mathematics lecturer and when he first came in he said: “I am a mathematician and this will be the most boring hour of your entire life.” And he was right, that is exactly what every student room in the room was thinking. But then he went on and defied expectations by telling highly silly and entertaining stories about the world of mathematics. People loved it. He read our minds, detected our major fear – “this is going to be boring” – and removed that fear with a fun story.

So next time you face an unpleasant conversation or sales pitch, think of your counterparts objections beforehand and then give him the I-know-what-you are-thinking story before you even start a difficult discussion. It will not only take the heat of the conversation but also steal your counterpart her or his biggest argumentative weapon.


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