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Inspiring Resilience: Storytelling - and Listening - with Empathy to Empower Action

You want to be there for your team right now. You want to be useful, compassionate and helpful to the people you care about the most.

As a leader – of a team, of a family, of an organization, of a company – you need to be able to communicate with empathy, and to inspire authentically, now more than ever.

You might be talking to people who are worried for their health, their jobs, their families and their bills. You might be talking to people worried for their passion projects, their careers, and their latest creative and business endeavors.

This is a look at how to use your biggest talent – storytelling – to create connection, and to give people a sense of focus and empowerment as they figure out how to make sense of things and pivot personally and professionally.

It’s a good time to give inspiration and empathy. It’s a bad time to give advice.

When people are worried about fundamentals like health and home – no one wants to hear about the time you overcame something pretty bad and now everything is fine.

UNLESS, that is, you focus on your fear. And your earnest struggle. Because, right now, people are coming from a place of fear, or resource scarcity and struggle. And that’s OK. That’s where your empathy can inform your story to make the biggest difference.

First: frame your conversation and story.

Tell them what you are doing: “I am sharing this with you because I want you to know, I have not been in your shoes exactly, but I have had to make sense of things that once felt terrifying and overwhelming. I am trying to communicate my empathy to you.”

Tell them what you are not doing: “I am not trying to give advice. Or tell you that everything happens for a reason. Or that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Or that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Second: Consider the point before you start.

Most of us bounce back because of a change in behavior or a change in attitude or orientation. But before we can change either thing, we have to pivot from panic into a place that believes we’re even possible of change.

Tip: Consider the point of this story to be – when you are ready, you can take steps – emotionally or professionally or personally to be resilient. But it’s OK if you’re just worried now.

Third: Start your (SHORT) story.

Prompts for this should be pretty serious:

- When you had to recover from a previous recession, downturn.

- When you lost your job.

- When you lost your will to work hard or felt depressed, lost.

- When you had a big professional failure. Lost money. Lost status. Lost team.

- When the organization had to recover from tragedy, such as death or disgrace of founder, CEO or other leaders, or other massive disruption.

Fourth: put these thoughts into a story form.

Tip: Keep coming back to how you FELT after each moment so the listener can stay connected to your experience of hardship, not just your experience of figuring it out.

· Two to three sentences: What was your role and responsibilities before things got hard.

· Three or four sentences: How did things go badly?

· Three or four sentences: How did you feel when things were hard? Describe what you did, and how you felt when things were at the low point.

· Three to four sentences: Who or what helped and how?

· Three sentences: What did it feel like when things started to go better?

· Two sentences: What is the lesson or big understanding you want the audience to have?


About Megan Finnerty

( is a journalist and storytelling consultant. Essentially, she’s a professional listener, who likes to talk. It’s complicated. She’s the director of the Storytellers Brand Studio, which curates and hosts live storytelling events for brands and nonprofits. And she’s the founder and director of the Storytellers Project, a nationwide series of live storytelling events from the USA TODAY Network. She’s coached thousands of people to share true, first-person stories. She graduated from Purdue University, and was a news features reporter at The Arizona Republic for 14 years. She feels strongly about feminism, cocktails, and NPR, and prefers a bold lip to a smoky eye.


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