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Storytellers you can't ignore in an organisation

Last updated on: July 12, 2011 14:39 IST

Story tellers you can't ignore in an organisation

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Vijay Nair

The author of The Boss Is Not Your Friend, Vijay Nair analyses the different types of story tellers in an organisation and writes about how they influence other employees.

Ever since I opted to be a writer and assumed the identity of a story teller, I feel totally at home in organisations. Allan Kay, Vice President, Walt Disney had gone on record to say 'Why was Solomon recognised as the wisest man in the world? Because he knew more stories than anyone else. Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we're all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.' I interpret that statement to mean that organisations are full of managers wanting to tell tales.

The CEO

The CEO is the most prolific of story tellers in an organisation. He loves to spin yarns. There is a pattern to all the stories he tells. They are invariably about him fighting windmills. In other words, they play out like the heroic antics of Don Quixote. But everyone in the organisation listens to his tales with rapt attention, cueing him with chuckles whenever needed. The only time I have seen this rule being broken was many years ago.

I was a young manager in the HR department of a multinational company. Every year we organised a General Management Training program for managers not just from India but also from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Managing Director would come to close the program with a speech and then all of us would troop in for the course dinner.

That particular year, his wife had accompanied him. The MD was a story teller to beat all story tellers. He told the same stories every year but everyone pretended they were hearing it for the first time and laughed at all his poor jokes. He must have had a fight with his wife on the way because half way through his narration she snapped loudly at him. "How much you talk? Just talk, talk, talk," she screeched.

There was pin drop silence in the room after this outburst. Then the poor man laughed limply with the rest of us shifting uncomfortably, and announced it was time all of us had dinner. For a long time after that I was in love with the MD's wife but kept my feelings to myself. In any case, the great man never brought his wife along for any official functions after that sorry episode and my infatuation died a quiet death.

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Image: Storytellers in an organisation

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'You can't believe anything the HR manager tells you'

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The HR Manager

The HR Manager ranks a close second when it comes to telling tales.

Their role is such that they have no choice but to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds and the only way they can save face is by cooking up a lot of stories. Very often they have to make up stories as part of their job and then it turns into a bad habit and they get addicted to storytelling.

You can't believe anything the HR manager tells you. They are all stories.

Like, if you go to the HR manager with a problem and the response is 'I'll look into it,' you can take it for granted that it's a tall tale. HR managers are paid to listen to employee cribs with a beatific smile on their faces; they don't think they have to do anything to make your life easier in the organisation.

The Boss

The three sets of employees you interact the most don't lag behind when it comes to telling stories.

The Boss as we all know is born to tell stories. He usually excels at it when he is counselling you during appraisal time to convince you why your incompetent peer deserves the promotion much more than you do and that you are actually better off without promotion and perks.


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Image: The only way they can save face is by cooking up a lot of stories

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'The peer likes to make up and spread stories'

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The peer

The Peer is another champion at story telling. He usually likes to make up and spread stories about you being on the verge of quitting when you are doing really well in the organisation and planning on a long time career with it.

But for some strange reason everyone tends to believe him and soon you are wondering why no one is taking you seriously any more in meetings.

The team member

The team member who reports to you in the organisation can also display a flair for storytelling.

When you are on leave he can be found with your boss regaling him with one story after another about your ineptitude. Both of them seem to enjoy your absence more than your presence as it gives them ample opportunity to be creative and make up stories about you.

Since you are surrounded by so many story tellers, you can take it to be a professional demand that you too turn into a story teller and search for plots and conspiracies all around you.

In any Indian organisation, you will have no dearth of listeners if you go to them with the latest.

Given a choice between working hard and telling or listening to stories, any Indian manager worth his salt would opt for the latter. That is why they like to stay back late at work and not because they like to slog as the chairman of a large Indian corporate group seemed to think when he was comparing them with British managers.

May the stories and story tellers continue to thrive in organisations!


Vijay Nair is the author of 'The Boss is Not Your Friend'


Image: The peer likes to make up and spread stories

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