Thaler Pekar knows a thing or two about telling a story, but she spoke to the Inspirefest audience about the importance of listening to them, too.
Creative and effective storytelling is Thaler Pekar’s full-time job. CEO of Thaler Pekar & Partners, she helps leaders in a variety of industries to communicate their ideas more effectively across 18 countries.
Prior to kicking off her talk, she asked the audience at Inspirefest 2018 to turn to the person next to them and talk to them about something they were wearing or carrying, whether it was a ring or a lucky pair of socks. She left the stage while the crowd became more animated, sharing their stories.
Story drives connection
On returning to the stage, Pekar asked people whether they felt connected to the person with whom they shared a story. With a show of hands, the answer seemed to be a resounding yes.
She said the exercise was to show that great stories don’t come from just “epic creativity” but from connection. Even the smallest stories contain huge amounts of “data, reason and emotion” on love, family and relationships. While telling a story can be powerful, asking for a story yields great unanticipated truths.
By asking for stories, we provide people with the power of being heard, Pekar explained. Listening to many stories leads to patterns, and patterns lead to the acceleration of understanding.
The importance of difference
While we often hear advice to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, Pekar said this is not always conducive to hearing the story properly. “We crave difference.”
By probing for commonalities, we could miss the point entirely. Listening to a story properly involves “universal truths plus particular experiences” while falling back on what we know or have gone through is an “egocentric exercise”.
It’s best to go into these interactions without any assumptions, Pekar advised. “If we assume nothing, then perhaps we can learn something.”
Discussing a recent “concentrated period of death” in her life, she noted how different experiences of grief are created based on each individual and their relationship to the person who passed away. By refraining from presumption, she was able to appreciate the stories of her lost loved ones from different perspectives.
Make it a habit
Pekar implored the audience to ask for stories and make a habit of “gentle enquiry”. It’s not easily done, but it is possible. “It does take courage; now more than ever, we need to be courageous.”
Complex people and topics can be difficult to approach, but Pekar wants us all to “elevate the unknown in people” by asking them for their stories and simply listening.