There he goes again. (How many times has he told that story?)

Stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching or strengthening a culture. But what about those tales that have out-lived their value? How to get teammates to quit telling old stories can be tricky, but it can be done.

How to get teammates to quit telling old stories can be tricky, but it can be done.A trip back to Psych 101 may provide insights into why teammates repeat the same old stories. The story could be:

  • A defense mechanism: I’m telling you this tale again because I want you to be aware that I know what I’m doing.
  • A plea for validation: I keep telling the same story because I want you to know I’m relevant. You must know that this challenge we’re facing and the work we’re doing…I’ve done this before. When you listen to my stories I feel validated (momentarily).

There are other reasons tales are told, of course. However, it’s useful to consider that stories told may be mini lifelines being thrown: “I’m telling this tale because I want to know I matter.” If this is the case, rolling or diverted eyes in response can prompt the storyteller to . . . tell the same story again.

With that empathy, your next step is easier if you have authority over the storyteller. You can ask: “Why do you tell your stories?” And say, “Rather than anchoring us in the past, it’s important that your stories inspire a stronger future. What will you do to help the newer members of the team tell their own story that’s relevant for all of us?”

If you’re not in a position of authority, feedback is a good option: “You tell a lot of stories. The ones that work best for me are those that make the entire team the hero and have a clear lesson we can leverage in our business today.”

Ignoring or ridiculing a storyteller is to dismiss a life that’s been lived. Everyone wants to tell a good story. Leadership requires being active in enabling people to create a narrative that inspires.

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