If you want to build relationships, start with a story.

IanSanders
3 min readJan 8, 2021

There’s a particular image I like to use in my Power of Story talk/ workshop. The image is of a woman sitting on a step with her dog, and is taken from the excellent ‘Humans of New York’ Instagram feed.

On a quick scan of the photo, it’s pretty ordinary — a forty-something white woman, sitting smiling next to a black dog.

In my session, I first share the image without the caption. What do people feel about this woman? I get a range of answers, mostly along the lines of it’s nice, she looks happy and so on.

And then I reveal the caption that accompanies the image. Her story is one of grief and companionship. We discover that the woman’s husband had died not so long ago, and finding her dog in a rescue centre has helped enormously.

Now that people know her backstory, what do they feel about her? Unsurprisingly, there’s a deeper engagement. Her smile for the camera has a new level of meaning. People now empathise and connect with her.

Knowing all this about her changes everything.

And that is the power of a story.

In our business and work lives we’ve all got our stories.

The stories of why we took this career path, of why we started our business, and of the obstacles and adventures along the way.

And the question is: are you shining a light on yours?

Sharing our stories at work — whether personal ones or the tales behind our brand or business — is a gamechanger for building that all important emotional connection with an audience. Whether that’s customers, colleagues, investors or the world at large.

Because knowing someone’s story changes how we feel.

When Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, shares a personal story on LinkedIn it changes how we might feel about the leader of a global tech giant. Satya wrote about becoming a father of a son with special needs and how it was a turning point in his life. How it shaped him not only as a parent but also as a business leader. We now see Satya not only as a CEO but as a human being. We can empathise with him.

When entrepreneurs David and Clare tell the story of how they wanted to give jobs back to their local community in order to get their small town making jeans again, it changes how we might feel about their denim brand. What they’re selling is now more than just a pair of jeans.

When Egbe reveals her path to becoming a lawyer started at the age of seven when she heard about the Stephen Lawrence case, it shows she’s more than just another lawyer. Knowing that this sense of racial injustice has motivated her since a young child speaks volumes about the path she has taken.

And when Sally shares her story of starting out in her career, and feeling the need to hide she had a young daughter — it reflects her leadership values about openness and empathy.

When we share our stories, it’s magnetic. It connects others to our ideas, to our brands and businesses.

Want to build more meaningful relationships with colleagues, customers and the people around you in 2021? Start with a story.

Need help and inspiration to get started? Download our free 20 page guide, ‘Stories Matter: How To Use Them in Business.’

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IanSanders

Sparking change through story. Energising people at work. Author of 365 Ways to Have a Good Day (out Nov 2021). Fuelled by coffee, curiosity, walking.