• Gregor Wynnyczuk

The Two Key Elements of the Cautionary Tale

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

Your organization is about to make a serious mistake. How do you know? You’ve seen it before. They did the same thing at your last organization and it failed spectacularly. So you make an argument which might sound something like this:

“At my last company we tried this same approach and it didn’t work. By the end of the year sales were in a tailspin and a major project was so far behind we ended up cancelling it.”

It’s a simple framework – bad decision leads to bad consequences. Sounds familiar, right? Maybe the result is familiar as well – no one listens. That’s because we are missing two key elements of the cautionary tale: legitimacy and empathy.

To establish legitimacy, the details of the story need to show that the current and prior situation really are the same. When you just stick to the highlights your audience assumes there are important differences you are glossing over. But by delving into the details, they decide for themselves if the situations are really comparable.

Also remember you can’t change another person’s thinking with logic alone. That’s where empathy comes in. You have to make them feel something. To build empathy, take time to set the stage and put your audience in the decision-maker’s shoes. Consider the following:

“Mark, the CEO at my prior organization, was under tremendous pressure from investors to improve profitability. For several weeks he held brainstorming sessions with the senior team on how to cut costs and shore up the bottom line. It was all he could talk about. From the start the CFO advocated for delaying a major system upgrade and freezing travel until after the next earnings report. Mark didn’t like the idea, but after a few weeks he didn’t think he had any other alternatives…”

The additional detail doesn’t just make it a better story. The additional detail helps establish that this is a similar circumstance and it opens the door for your audience to consider what they are doing from a different perspective.

Think of it this way – you are not just making an argument; you are taking them on a journey. A journey that when guided skillfully, will end with a wiser decision.

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