Sunday, August 2, 2009

Often Wrong, Never In Doubt

Yesterday we had a really amazing birthday party for Iris.

One of the things that I always find really enjoyable about our parties is that they typically involve a wonderfully diverse group of people for whom the only connection is Iris and I. That being the case, I love playing a game that Iris and I first began playing while sitting in the coffee shop observing people. It's called, "What's His Story?"

What's His Story?
What's His Story is a really simple game. Essentially, you observe someone for a few moments and then share what you've made up as that person's story. Who they are... What they do... How they got to where they are... What they're concerned about... There situation... and so on. It's amazing how many amazing people we've seen in the coffee shop: actors incognito, spies and terrorists, composers and authors, secret lovers, secret haters. All made up on the fly.

So, when we have a bunch of people together who don't know each other, I often like to break the ice by asking one person to tell the story of another whom they don't know. Of course, it's much more fun at parties than in the coffee shop because we get the opportunity to compare the made-up story with the real story.

Getting It Right
Yesterday, we began playing What's His Story by asking our friend Kathy to tell the story of our friend Butch. Kathy hemmed and hawed saying that she couldn't tell Butch's story because she didn't know him well enough.

I explained to Kathy that What's His Story isn't about getting it right; it's about taking your impressions, observations and beliefs and running with them.

Essentially, whenever we meet someone for the first time, we start filling in the blanks based on what we observe and what we believe; we start telling that person's story to ourselves. For example, if we're standing in line at the coffee shop behind someone wearing surgical scrubs, we might decide that she works at a hospital. If someone is tailgating us and weaving in and out of the lane trying to pass, we might decide that he's an idiot and really impatient, or, we might decide that he has a critically injured friend in the car and is trying to get to the hospital. We make things up about people all the time.

The difference between what we normally do and What's His Story, is that when playing the game, we actually voice what we normally keep to ourselves. The game says a lot more about the story teller than the story's subject.

No Offense!
With a firm understanding of What's His Story basics, Kathy proceeded to tell Butch's story. However, as she proceeded, she would pause ever once in a while apparently holding back something that she had intended to say or changing course in mid-sentence. It became clear that Kathy wasn't saying everything that was coming to mind because she didn't want to offend Butch.

So, we came to another What's His Story basic. When we observe and make up stories about people, some of the things we make up are positive and some are negative. The charges themselves are subject to interpretation; one person's positive might be another person's negative. Nonetheless , we absolutely have judgments about some of the things that we make up. For example, if we observe someone and decide that he's of the idle rich, we might have a work ethic that considers that a bad thing or, we might have a work ethic that considers that to be a good thing.

In many budding relationships, we create these beliefs and judgments early on and never voice them. More importantly, these beliefs and judgments shape how we behave in the relationship: what we share and don't share, where we go in discussions, topics that we avoid, and so on...

The beauty of What's His Story is getting these out on the table right away. We engage early on the judgments and beliefs that might otherwise inhibit or completely block the development of a great new relationship.

Often Wrong, Never in Doubt

Armed with this understanding What's His Story basics, Kathy continued her story of Butch. It was a nice story with the occasional hesitation or apology, but we made it through.

Without pausing to ask Butch for confirmation or denial of any of Kathy's story elements, we asked others to tell Butch's story, and like Kathy, many were hesitant to embark upon telling their version of the story. That is, until we got to Mark K...

Mark boldly embarked upon telling a most remarkable life story of Butch which included everything from smuggling Hispanic immigrants into to US via Canada to selling drugs to creating and running a free drug treatment program with a 7% success rate. Mark filled in details with great specificity and without hesitation, pausing only for dramatic effect or waiting for the laughter to stop.

It was a lot of fun and Mark was neither inhibited by getting it right nor by concern over offending Butch.

Want to Play?
Since each of us plays What's His Story any way, you might consider playing out loud at your next event or meeting or party where you have new people meeting one another. It's a great opportunity to learn a lot about the people you're meeting and it's fun for each person who is the subject of the story to hear the types of impressions they leave with others.

By the way, after the stories are told. One can optionally ask the person who is the subject of the stories to tell the real story. But that's up to you.

Have a great Sunday!

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