November 19, 2020

Sharing Personal Stories about Others


Recently I ran a storytelling workshop for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. One of the participants, Chevelle Grey, shared a story about her Nan that I absolutely loved. Here it is…

Ash Wednesday

When my nan was a young girl living in country Victoria in the 1940s (and child labour laws were much laxer than they are today), she had an after-school job cleaning the local church.

One Tuesday afternoon, she wandered in and started dusting the shelves and pews. When she worked her way down to the altar, she saw that piles of dust had gathered in some dishes. She was appalled at the mess, so she diligently tipped the dust into the bin, gave the dishes a clean and kept on going.

The next day the priest arrived ready to deliver mass for Ash Wednesday but was shocked to find the ash prepared for the service – sourced from burned Palm Sunday leaves – had disappeared. He hastily gathered some newspapers and was spotted burning them in the church courtyard as locals arrived for mass, my guilty-looking nan among them.

I’m sharing this with you because it reminds us just how important it is to consider the broader context you’re operating in before taking action. There’s so much to be gained from pausing and reflecting before you tip the ashes into the bin.

Making Your Message Engaging and Memorable

I just love the simplicity and humour in this story. Chevelle advised me that it’s really important for her team to think about the bigger picture and how their work fits into the strategic environment. She stated that,

‘Working at the centre of government means that our actions can have far-reaching implications. So we need to take the time to assess this impact. This story helps me get this message across in a more engaging and memorable way.’

Stories about Others

Not all the personal stories you share at work have to be about yourself. So, sharing stories about your family can work just as well. But as I have learnt from experience with my daughters, it’s always best to check for permission first.

In this case Chevelle said her Nan (pictured above) was ‘delighted’ to know that her story would be shared. Chevelle asked her about how she felt at the time when she realised she had cleaned up the sacred ‘ash’. Her Nan pretty much shrugged it off with a “whoops, oh well”. Chevelle said,

‘that is Nan in a nutshell, she doesn’t dwell on or agonise over things’

…which is another valuable lesson to be shared.