Are you running away from a colleague who always has a story to tell?

 Have you met someone at work who always has a story to tell? Do you hide from that person or change your route if you see him by the coffee machine, or by the water cooler? And if you encounter him, do you check your watch to signal you have to get back to that (un)scheduled meeting? With our focus on efficiency, we want every minute to count towards our productivity. What we forget is that stories embroider our life with meaning. It is as if we are all fishermen, searching for meaning in the sea. The fishes are the stories we catch. When we are back to our villages by the sea, it is these fishes we share. Stories create a bond between the one who shares it and the one who listens.

Photo by TC Kniss on Unsplash

A manager in a software company discussing the challenges of having worked with a client onsite, a shop assistant at a retail store narrating his experience with an irate customer, a server at a restaurant in Los Angeles whose eyes sparkle like a dewdrop touched by the sun when she discusses her dreams of becoming a movie star. I remember hearing all these stories and more. I have been a witness. Most often, people are not looking for solutions or answers to season their stories. They just want you to notice their existence. Not everyone is a celebrity, but everybody has an intense desire to celebrate their experience. What role will you play in that? Here are some ideas.

Be the space for the story: We are all storytellers. Often, we restrain ourselves from telling our children “In our times……” As the time comes between us and our experiences, our memory plays a more active role, fabricating events and encounters that never happened. At that point, we must go back to someone who might remind us of what exactly the story was. This someone is a person (or a group of people) with whom we once shared our story. Siblings, old friends, former colleagues, and at times even our parents become fact-checkers for us. When a colleague comes to you and shares a story, be the space for the story to flow. Maybe months or years later, your colleague will need that story to boost his or her confidence, signal progress, or even just to laugh about.

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

View the story as a puzzle: When others share their experiences with you, view it as an opportunity to learn. It could be about the personalities of different actors in the story (one of whom could be your boss in the future!), or the events and how they unfolded, the challenges and dilemmas your colleague talks about, or even what he or she considers as a victory. The sharing of a “heroic journey” of your colleague can be an opportunity for you to introspect. How would you respond or react? View stories as puzzles you and your colleagues are working on together.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Hold the story as a connection: Think of the story as an idea to learn about the world (isn’t that one big reason why we are active on social media?). If a colleague complains about something, honor that experience and struggle. See how it connects to bigger issues in this world. And most importantly think of ways you or your work can solve it. Stories are lead to innovation. Act on them.

Next time you see your colleague who loves to share stories, rush to greet that person. Welcome, all the fishes. Have a feast. Bond. This is what working together is all about.

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