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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E39. How Stories and Humour Build Trust with Brian Harman



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story powers.com and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a coffee.com forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.


Welcome to the story powers podcast, the show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco first. My guest today is Dr. Brian Harmon. Brian is leadership professor and professional speaker who uses his humorous approach to engage and motivate leaders. He speaks at Fortune 500 companies, TEDx events, and universities all around the world. He writes for Forbes and teaches leadership at UCLA, UC Berkeley in the SN Graduate School of Business in Peru. Brian might also be the only grown man alive, who can say the word love over and over again, without the massively embarrassed. Ladies and gentlemen, Brian Harmon. Brian, welcome to the show.


Brian Harman 1:45

Hi, Francisco. Thanks for the introduction. Good to be here. And it's good to see


Francisco Mahfuz 1:49

you too. And this is not the only thing you do you know the saying the word love and actually basing a lot of your approach with with leadership on love that I thought was potentially mentally deranged. I heard you say this thing that a day. And I wanted to check that this is actually true, because to me, this didn't seem didn't seem real. Do you actually ask your wife? What annoys you about me?


Brian Harman 2:18

Yeah, so this is a question that yes, I do ask her on maybe an annual basis, I want to make sure that the people around me have an opening to give me candid feedback. Without the radical candour and that critique, people often will keep those pieces of information that are highly valuable to you. So you can make improvements and growth to themselves. So I want to give them that opening on a constantly asked for feedback. So that's where that came from. And yes, I do. I do like to say the word love lead with love. And what that means to me is that I live a life according to my core values. Love being the first one.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:54

I like how you say, I want to give people an opening to say what they think. I know, I'm, I'm in my second marriage, this one, the second one has lasted significantly more than the first. I haven't felt that either of my wives lacked openings to tell me how they feel. Perhaps they just, they just forced. But


Brian Harman 3:16

yeah, there's there's open advice given from from spouse to spouse all the time, I think that that comment really goes into the sort of approach that I have with everybody, whether it's a friend, whether it's a student, whether it's a client, the constant request for feedback is just something that I live by,


Francisco Mahfuz 3:34

reaches, we just fed and I, you know, I'm making, I'm making jokes about it. But I do think that being able to talk openly and honestly to people is essential in any form of relationship. Obviously, I'm trying to laugh about it. But it is probably true that in most relationships, people might nag each other. But you I think it's very different for you to save someone listen, you know, I would really like to know if I'm doing something that is that is potentially a problem that is that is not helping this thing work as well as it could. And I that I don't think is very common. At least it's not in, in in the experience I've had with I think I do that with with my wife, but But most people I know would would be terrified of that type of conversation.


Brian Harman 4:22

Yeah, I will say for myself, it's sometimes it's nice to get a sugar coated piece of feedback. Hey, Brian, that was awesome. But in the end, for me, I like a very symmetric good to bad feedback. Whereas it with my employees, or with my wife or with my friends with anyone else. I like to stack the positive praise with a tiny bit of constructive criticism. So for me, I just, I want to push through that I don't want the fluff. I don't want the nice stuff. I just want the growth stuff, but that's not how it works for everyone. You got to fill that relationship bucket up all the way to the top before you start take a scoop out with the constructive praise.


Francisco Mahfuz 5:02

This is something I I didn't know about, you know, I've seen a lot of your stuff on social media and I've heard your show with with the guys. Plenty of times and which by the way, I now realise it's kind of a ripoff of the name of your book. Because the show you do on LinkedIn, what you guys call it lead life love, right? And in your book has, has a pretty special title. Tell everyone what that book is, was subtitle really.


Brian Harman 5:33

It's funny that you bring that up, because now that that show is up on LinkedIn with Jonathan Ravi and Alex and Travis. I actually forget the name of my book, I get them confused. Now. Wait, which one is learn laugh love? And wait, what is it? Yeah, I already I get confused now. But the book, let me think it's learn Lafley lead. And that was a series of articles and, and short little pamphlet books that I was writing that was helping people that were new to management. And the title of that first one was called How to avoid a huge leadership and leadership. Shit. And the story follows this guy called Mr. Butts, who's the guy on the cover. Okay, strangely enough. My public relations guy for that book was also Scott Butz. So. He's a lifelong friend of mine, actually. And we got permission from him to use that as our character in the book. But we drew a buttface, a Mr. buttface, on the cover. And that's the way it's supposed to be comical. My friends, and even strangers have texted me pictures of reactions of others that have seen them reading the book in public. And it's a it's a good conversation starter, for sure.


Francisco Mahfuz 6:49

Well, isn't I perhaps this says something about my maturity or lack thereof. But I am not at all above that type of humour. I actually, just today, I posted something on social media about an episode that I put out in the podcast last week about a guy called Mark Ensign, and the book he just published, which I really liked was is called be a dick. And, you know, it's not what you think is not advocating for people to be horrible human beings. On the contrary, but but he said that the play on words and people's reactions to it are a big part of the fun. Because, you know, people will react to titles like that. And I think fun is, as I'm sure you strongly agree, is essential to most relationships. And this is I wanted to veer into, you know, I want to talk about story, because that's my thing. And that's why I typically have people here for but I want to talk a bit about humour, because one of the main approaches you have for leadership is humour, right?


Brian Harman 7:53

That's correct. I am a big believer that playing the fool has helped me significantly grow my career. The reason for that is because I let the barriers break down from the second, I appear into any room from my outfit, from my personality. I'll never forget an administrator at UC Berkeley walking into the room. And they look around confused. And they asked one of the students who's the teacher here.


Francisco Mahfuz 8:21

What are you doing, Brian,


Brian Harman 8:22

I was just sitting with my feet up on the table in my backwards hat and having a good time we were laughing and joking in the classroom. And that's, that's exactly what I go for. That's That's what I think creates the psychological safety in the room for people to open up. When you're overly positive. When you're putting a little silliness and self enhancing humour into the picture in any conversation. You're allowing more spontaneity and creativity and openness and vulnerability. If people feel safe, they'll let their guard down. And when they let their guard down, they'll contribute their genius. So that's that's the the purpose for me of why humour matters so much.


Francisco Mahfuz 8:59

Have you managed to swing the backwards hat in the in the business school?


Brian Harman 9:03

I have, I wore a backwards hat. Even during my TED talk, I wear it in every university class that I teach, I wear my hat when I go to client offices, and I'm coaching CEOs. And hey, if that doesn't work for them, then we wouldn't be a good fit anyways. So the really point is the authentic self. If you if you mask who you are, you shall never succeed. I have


Francisco Mahfuz 9:25

a is it a bone to pick with you but but it's something you advocate very strongly against. And it might just be like, if you're right, then my whole life is wrong. I need to understand what part of it I'm not understanding correctly because you you talk when you talk about humour, I believe you you say that there are four different types of humour, just like self enhancing humour. You mentioned that a second ago. There's affiliative humour, which is when people play off each other, I think, and then there is self defeating humour and aggressive humour or hostile humour. Okay, cool. Right now you under no uncertain terms, it seemed to be against in the in the articles I've read against self deprecating humour, which is what I live by like, and I, I genuinely believe that it serves of a very important purpose. When it comes to a lot of the things you said, you know, vulnerability, and to minimising the distance between people and saying, clearly, you know, not only I'm not better than you, but you know, I'm, I'm a flawed human being as well. So you should be, you should feel free to be your unique, flawed self. Am I wrong? Am I missing something here?


Brian Harman 10:46

The thing about self deprecating humour, is that it comes at your own expense. Now, if you're able to not turn that into a self fulfilling prophecy, if you can truly laugh off a self deprecating joke, go for it, it's really good at reducing power differences and status differentials within the people that you're with. However, most times when people use self deprecating humour, it becomes a self defeating thought. And especially if you're at the start of a presentation at the start of a story. I don't think that's the best leg to stand on. So I, I always tell people, it's usually not okay, because it's usually misused, used effectively is a really powerful tool. And there have been US presidents that have been really good at that there have been some top leaders that that's how they relate with people is through the use of self deprecating humour. And it's used effectively, it's powerful. The research shows that just most people misuse it, and it turns into a crutch. So I think, especially for women, research in US corporations has been pretty clear around the fact that it's high risk, it can be high reward, but the risk can usually outweigh any of the pros involved.


Francisco Mahfuz 11:54

So yeah, so I'm interested to figure out what makes what makes it misused or not. So for example, from what you were saying, some of the things I was thinking about this, most of the jokes I make to my own expense, either, I don't care about what I'm saying, you know, it's, it's something I'm saying that is perhaps not particularly true. So, you know, we I was sharing with you right at the beginning that I had this incident of kidney stones, which is horribly painful, and you know, the stone has to come out. And the typical way the stone comes out is you know, as you go to the, to the loo, and then I was talking to some friends of mine, and then I said something like, it looks like he's going to have to come out the usual way. Luckily, for me, I'm a modest guy, so it doesn't have a very long distance to travel. Now, rather than going to the merits, if that's true or not, but but even if it were true, I don't have a problem with that I'm not carrying a hang up about about that around. So to me, is just is just an easy way to make a joke without making it about anyone else. And the same thing when I talk about, you know, how I've made mistakes in my past, you know, I got married when I was 25. And I was divorced when I was 26. Like, those are our true facts. And I have no issue with them that I know. So, by your definition, is that okay? Or would that could be putting or could it potentially be misusing the humour that several forgetting humour,


Brian Harman 13:16

I think the way that you just described that is exactly the the powerful way to use it, put a fun light, a little giggle and a laugh around the things that have been a challenge in the past. Looking back on hindsight, in hindsight, is it's pretty cool. And we can take that that laughter into it. I think the way that you're using it is self enhancing. So you're using the self deprecating humour in a positive way. Sadly, some people, they'll they'll make a joke at their own expense, and it will sit there and it will fester in their head as Wait. What was that? Did I mean that did I not mean that? Even the question we talked about earlier on is what annoys you about me? That's that's a self deprecating question, actually. And I'm trying to get the feedback in a lighter way. So instead of saying like, what are the things about me that I need to fix? I say, Well, what annoys you about me? That's, that's actually a little bit of self deprecating humour. I know that some things I do are annoying, and I want to change those but no, no need to make it a hard and tough DISKIT discussion. It can be light.


Francisco Mahfuz 14:19

Okay, in the other question I had with humour before we move on to story is, whenever I've done speaking in the past, for humour has always been a part of it. And I've done a tonne of coaching with people on speaking and help them improve their speeches. But this is something I don't find easy, is, you know, helping people be funnier. I find that you know, there's some patterns you can teach. There are some things you can that are very straightforward to say okay, no, use the rule of three exaggerate and, you know, Twister expectation, but I find that there's a lot of a lot from humorous is timing, and maybe just a quick way about it that if your brain is just not set up that way, it's hard to teach. So what has been your experience with that?


Brian Harman 15:08

I go back to the the goal of humour is just to make people smile. So if you do that using a funny accent or a joke, if you're going to be quick witted, any of the things that can give you the same result, which is the smile, those are okay, if that comes off in humour, if that comes off on just being really nice. If it comes off on being complimentary, that's all okay. As long as you reach that, that goal of hey, they're smiling.


Francisco Mahfuz 15:33

I know I have a funny accent if you want to tell me that say.


Brian Harman 15:39

Yeah, my favourite one to imitate is is like the English and Scottish people just because it's to me, it's, it sounds funny, it's the same language with such a different tone. And, you know, I like to make fun of them with


Francisco Mahfuz 15:54

with these great I just, I'm completely tone deaf for accents. And so I I recently had the experience that you've had lots of times, which is teaching at a Latin American MBA. So it I speak Spanish fluently by by most people's definition of fluent, but my accents a bit strange. And I struggle with some conjugations because I don't strange enough living in Spain, I don't speak almost any Spanish and my wife's resident them work in English all the time. And so I opened the hour open my lecture on storytelling by saying, there was one question that I need to answer before I do anything else today. Otherwise, this is the only thing you'll be thinking about. And the question is, why is my Spanish so weird? And I eventually, I eventually blamed it on the Catalans that you know, I live in Spain, already Spain's Catalonia, they speak many languages, and they are friendly people. So none of this is helping me. Yeah. Yeah. And I, I have to be very aware of that. So I wanna I know, You've done the story thing with the universities. Right? And I want to get to that point, because I think that's super interesting. But how did you figure out that story needed to be a big part of your approach? Where did that start for you,


Brian Harman 17:07

I finished grad school, an MBA, and I would go into my corporate life. And I have these brilliant, brilliant ways to improve the business, I was continuous improvement guy, Lean Six, Sigma, Black Belt, all that I could never get my ideas turned into a plan of action that were approved by executives. And I realised over time that the missing skill was storytelling, communication, captivating people through an influential message. So it doesn't matter. We all have great ideas. We all have expertise in our given craft. But if we cannot communicate those, we are dead in the water. So I went through this process myself of learning everything I could on storytelling, the hundreds of books, the the workshops, the webinars that you name it, I had done it for a couple of years. And that turned into my career started changing. I doubled my salary, I started getting new projects, I started getting new responsibility and authority over bigger and better things. And I thought, wow, if they only would have taught me this in business school, so I went and took it upon myself to do some workshops, I started my consulting business, they seem to be going incredibly well, companies were calling me back saying we want to do this again for a bigger audience. And I talked about it in conferences, and eventually, that led to teaching a custom developed course at universities. And I've done it maybe 30 times now, when I started actually teaching it, there was a lot of surprises, one of which being when I went down to Peru for the very first time. I think this was January of 2017. Maybe I go down there, I have 50 students, it's a it's an intensive course. So Monday through Friday, they're spending the whole day with me. And by the end of the course, they have to actually go up and present their story, their personal story from birth until what got them in the room today. Wow.


Francisco Mahfuz 19:00

That's pretty intense. Yet not a story but the story.


Brian Harman 19:04

It was intense in so many ways the the laughs The cries, the hugs, the high fives, the clapping the applause that the emotions in that room. It was the most energising feeling I had ever had in my professional life up to that point. And when I came away from that, and I came back to the US, I thought, Oh, my God, that really changed my life. So from there, it just continued, it was like, Well, I can't stop there. I got to keep going and keep going. And now one of the things I do in my executive coaching as I teach CEOs how to tell their story, not only that, but how to have a conversation with their employees in their leadership team about what's their story, and when they're exchanging that, that story. I did set executive retreats, one on one or even in corporate training. Once you get to that place where now people are sharing their stories, and that's part of the company, this tool, this framework of, of storytelling, and it, it's magic. I don't know how else to put it.


Francisco Mahfuz 19:58

So how do you draw approach the normal did you take an ergonomic fit, it could be completely different for leaders or for for the students. But there's a found from experience, there's two very different approaches. So one is sort of structure or theory or framework first, and you're trying to teach people, okay, this is what a story needs to look like. And the other approach is, okay, now let me just get you telling some stories. And once I've gotten you to get them out and to and to figure out that you can actually do it, now we're going to tailor them to to make them look the way they need to look if we want them to be powerful. So what have you inclined more towards?


Brian Harman 20:39

I have gone the full structure. So 90% framework and storytelling structure, I prefer free tax framework five, act, context, problem, climax, falling action, call to action, and then 10%, delivery and 0% actually on the content. So it doesn't matter what you say, if you tell it in the right structure. And if you deliver the message, in an exciting way, do you increase your momentum and volume as you get to the climax? And then give people a chance to back down? Do you rise, the tension and the cortisol levels as you get up? And then let it fall back? Those are the types of things that I teach not so much. What's in this story?


Francisco Mahfuz 21:14

I mean, that's super interesting. I don't know. Sure. I'm not sure if I've heard that before. Because, I mean, it's our testing things and figuring out what works best, right. But, for example, the experience I've had recently at an MBA in Barcelona, yes, he was super, super hands on. So these guys, they know they're doing right. So the Communications course has public speaking, and has storytelling for the first year students, not just the executives, which I was already impressed with. But it's just practice over and over and over, right, so they do something like 10, or 12, different three minute speeches or stories in the course of about two weeks. And my my impression, and I've tried this in other scenarios, and seems to be the cases, most people's first attempt at a story are actually pretty close to what a story should be like. But then sometimes they miss some cues that are very important. So the one thing I found a lot is, people don't put a moment in there, right. So there is no one particular very vivid moment full of details that the story revolves around, it's more sort of a timeline, they're giving you a whole bunch of events. And then it's just not that you just don't get absorbed by it. So there's no narrative transportation, or you know, there's no specific details to to make you connect with with that specific world or environment. But I tend to find that the practice, you know, the heavy on practice approach, tends to release for the students I've worked with tended to work better than just giving them frameworks are usually interesting that you would say that you wouldn't focus so much, particularly on content. So with with leaders, you teach them free tax framework, and just run that by again, bit slower. So anyone who hasn't read this five times


Brian Harman 22:58

will get it. Yeah, free text framework. So it comes from Gousto afraid tag, it's an adaptation of Aristotle's three act play, but in a five section format, it's pictured as a triangle and the way that it starts with the context. Who, what, when, where, how, why, what's the purpose? Why are we even listening to you to begin with, then you go into the tension, you're going up the triangle up the mountain towards the climax. This is the part of the story where you want to increase people's cortisol levels so that by the time they get to hear your climax, they're focused on you. That's a tunnel vision. That's what the cortisol levels are for. Once you get into the climax, it should be kind of short and sweet. This is a major turning point, a major milestone, something that has changed a spark in the ignition. In a business presentation, this would be the deliverable or the pitch, after the climax, there should be something that indicates that you've just finished the climax, that can be a pause, that can be a shorter volume to indicate that you've just changed sections of your story. I even like the call out this, this is the climax of my story, make it super clear that you've just reached the tip of the mountain, you're at that mountaintop moment, then you're going to back them down into the falling action, you got to calm people back down, you don't want them in this heightened state for the whole time. So send the elevator back to ground floor, tell them why it matters, sprinkling some achievements, things that have happened since then this is the supporting evidence, or in a business presentation, this would be the data. And then at the bottom is the call to action. This is the way that business stories and personal stories are different. Whereas in personal stories or movies, you don't want to walk away with an instruction or guidance, but in business, you want there to be some requests at the end. And the clearer the call to action, the clearer people know what to do with what you just said. So that's the general structure there. The five points up, up and down the triangle.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:41

And by your mention of cortisol I take it that you're familiar with pose axe work, right?


Brian Harman 24:47

Yeah. Paul Zack Claremont University. I spoke to him. He's a great guy.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:51

Oh, yeah. Why I haven't spoken him personally. But yeah, he's his work. I'm not sure here but I think that most of what people talk about nowadays is storytelling about How induces oxytocin which is the trust hormone, and dopamine for attention and, and endorphins? I think most of that comes from his work, right?


Brian Harman 25:11

It does. Yeah, he studied the release of oxytocin in people's blood through different human interactions from weddings, to storytelling to everyday communications. The thing about trust this oxytocin hormone, the bonding molecule, this is something that's released during handshakes, human touch, sex, childbirth, hugs, high fives, the way that you can induce oxytocin during a story is by getting overly open. So trust is a reciprocal emotion, if I give you my trust. So if I'm open, and I tell you my real story, the deeper darker stuff, then you're going to want to reciprocate that at a biological level, at the oxytocin level at the hormonal level, you're going to want to give me that back in return. So as you're talking about that rising action, and the building of tension up through the story, as you approach the climax, that's the oxytocin moment. That's where you're going to open up and actually tell how did that problem make you feel? So in my class, people have talked about some really hard stuff. And they talked about how it made them feel. And by the time they got to the climax of their story, we're all now flooded with oxytocin. And we're now feeling like when it's our turn to tell our story, we might go that extra mile because they just didn't, they've opened up that gate for us of vulnerability and openness.


Francisco Mahfuz 26:20

So this leads me to something I wanted to ask you about, because you're describing people talking about talking about really, you know, really painful moments or really vulnerable moments in their lives. And I, I've heard your tell of of your personal story that involved quite a lot of hardship, because you had lots of was it a car accident or healthy? I know that there were health issues, but remember, there was a car accident in there as well.


Brian Harman 26:45

It was a rare bone disease in my spine. Okay. And you had like loads of surgery


Francisco Mahfuz 26:49

or something horrible like that, right? Yeah. But actually, I need to bracket that. I heard you describe that after you're going through that you developed, I think you called it like a fear of death. And I went and tried to find the technical name for it. And I think I stumbled upon the same thing you did. So it's Sonata phobia, is the right name. But if you look it up, you end up finding fun not so notic phobia, which is the fear of thoroughness as the barbell supervillain, yeah. Which can lead to Napa phobia we, which is the fear of snapping.


Brian Harman 27:27

That's funny. Yeah. The fear of snapping. Oh, yeah. Yeah, cuz he does the snap.


Francisco Mahfuz 27:33

Yes, yeah. Is it irrational fear of SNAP funnels, snapping his fingers and sending half of the universe away. But anyway, right. So so I've seen you describe that story. And it's a gut wrenching story. But my question to that is, yes, 100%, I can see how that story would lead to trust. So if someone hears that story, now, a few I can tell you just about anything. But how do you feel about stories like that being used in an environment where I'm not saying it's not that you're not trying to generate trust, because you need trust for business. But you know, most scenarios where you could use storytelling for business, that type of story might perhaps not be the type of story that she would tell you would use different types of storytelling. So I just wanted you to get your take on when that type of story would be appropriate in business and when he might not be.


Brian Harman 28:29

So the personal story would be very powerful for personal introductions, if you want to jumpstart from surface level nonsense with an acquaintance to an actual relationship, the personal story model is very effective. Now in business, though, if I'm trying to get a project approved, and I'm going through that tension, I can't be talking about my spine surgeries. That's ridiculous. But you could talk about if we don't automate this process, here's what will continue to happen for the employees, here's how they feel doing this stuff manually. Here's how they feel with the fact that they're not given the resources that they need to succeed. So you can always find some level of tension it might take some searching but it's it's always there. I mean, there's there's no limit of hardship in the workplace for for any given problem. And hey, if there is no problem if there isn't something that that is is deep enough to actually address that then then you're not telling the right story. You got to you got to figure out what is the right story here.


Francisco Mahfuz 29:22

Yeah, because the the reason I asked that is because something I've come across often is and this happens a lot with professional speakers. So for a long time, there was this type of professional speaker that was very much in demand you know, the climbed Everest survived cancer professional speaker and that fell out of of disuse, you know, fell out of popularity after a while not because those stories weren't inspiring, but I think it's because the novelty had worn off and people struggled to connect to those stories. You know, I I am now going through my own medical mishaps which are nowhere near as serious as yours, but it's not necessarily the easiest thing that To hear someone going through something incredibly painful that took years to overcome, and relate to that, I mean, you definitely feel that this person is being open and vulnerable with you. But I don't think you necessarily hear that and go, Oh, you're just like me. And that's what I found a lot with. People get this idea that if you have this super difficult or heroic personal story, that that's, that's the story that needs to be told. And sometimes it's not, that all always bring you closer to people, I think sometimes it might actually make it harder for them to feel close to you, because they can't relate


Brian Harman 30:35

yet. So there's so many good points there. Within this, this sort of Hero of I climbed Mount Everest, or I got through five surgeries or whatever the thing is, it's the little stuff that people relate to. So within my story, my personal story, there will be sprinkled in of other stuff, how I dropped out of college take care of my sick aunt who had a brain aneurysm. Well, if you've taken care of a family member, you could relate to what that felt like. So those tiny pieces are the thing that you want to get people to relate to. If you're telling the story, and the problem is too dramatic, and you're now a pointy triangle. And you're way too over the top and it's all climax, or it's all tension, you failed. And people think, I mean, people aren't stupid, they can't be manipulated. If you're not telling the right story at the right time. They're they're gonna just look at you like, what the hell is this thing? So I think I think it just comes back to the little things, the little, the little sort of implicit, relatable trust elements within your story, like when you were telling me earlier about it was before we recorded but about kidney stones. And I returned with my brother told me about how paralysing it was for him when he was driving to stop his car and all this. That's relation I can relate to you even though I haven't personally had that yet. I probably will at some point, but I'm sorry, I wouldn't wish that upon my greatest enemy, right? But those those things we want to latch on to people in their stories. And if you don't give them any details, if you give them nothing about the emotional element, then it's hard to get anything to relate.


Francisco Mahfuz 32:04

It just doesn't feel real. It's this paradox of storytelling, which is the specific makes it universal. But otherwise, it just feels generic. Oh, yeah. And I have this thing and it's not I'm not feeling the give me the specifics. And then I think we'll be thinking, Okay, do I know anyone who's suffered that nobody knows someone who suffered something that kind of sounds similar. But you know, the pain sounds similar, the health issue is different, but in a new be looking for connections there somewhere. But if it's if it's generic, and it's not specific, then then you won't be able to make those connections, you won't have enough to, to latch on to, as you said,


Brian Harman 32:39

we want to see extraordinary people, but we want to see that they're ordinary first. The other thing I think is cool about storytelling is letting it be organic. So if I was looking at notes right now, I'd be giving myself a massive crutch. And this is what I hated about the TEDx Talk experience was that you have to send your speech to them in advance. So it's written all the way full script. Number one is, it's really difficult to memorise a 15 minute speech or less, even if it was five minutes, that's difficult. Two minutes is difficult. 20 seconds is difficult. So that part in itself is an additional challenge. The second part is, if I'm telling a story that I wrote out completely, I've just lost all spontaneity, all organic nature of that, and a lot of the emotion that comes up naturally as I'm telling this story, because then I'm just practising it to practising it to perfect it not to connect so you've lost that so I encourage people anyone who tells a story just outline it give yourself some freedom and autonomy within those stories spaces to do what you got to do.


Francisco Mahfuz 33:34

Yeah, I've I've heard many people complain about the difficulty of memorising speeches. Now I my brain just works in a perhaps slightly different way that I, I've always found that up to about 1520 minutes, I can memorise word for word, but you're absolutely right. It's very, very difficult to do that. And not sound it you have to rehearse so much not to sound rehearsed, that it's beyond most people. So in the story, what I found now that I mean, I'm putting the stories on social media and things of that nature is I never write them anymore. I just say, Okay, it's this and then that and then that other thing, and then I turned the clock on in I just tell it, okay, well, that was just too long. And then I tell it again, and then I tell it again, and then at some point, it's like okay, well that's about it. It's never going to be Word Perfect. But it's still going to end up probably being I don't know, 80% of the same words every time. But if it changes, I haven't gone off track. I've just you know, just set it in a slightly different way. And then it still sounds like a person telling a story. Although one that you can tell Well, in our theatre, something completely memorised, which would be awful. Or this rambling thing that doesn't go anywhere and has all sorts of, of distractions in the media though, which I think is a lot how a lot of people tell stories, right? I don't I don't I'm not one of those people that believe that. Like every single person is a good storyteller because I have friends in my friends suck. So yeah, there's that as well. Okay, so let me just go back to something, something you said before, because you said that at least the way you teach storytelling seems to be mostly focused on the structure and a bit of the delivery, not so much on the content. But when you are teaching leaders how to tell stories are you focusing on Okay, let's figure out let's figure out the stories and work on them together and you're done. Or, you know, we you should be able to do this by yourself with different stories. And then you tell them what types of stories they should be looking for. So that that's what I'm not really like, if you don't work on content, at least you need to probably work on where you find the content, right? Yeah.


Brian Harman 35:44

So the content piece, usually, if you're good with the structure, really good with the structure, I actually wouldn't when people ask me questions, I imagine a little free text framework in the corner of my mind there. And I just kind of fill it in. So if asked a question, that's an impromptu story about XYZ, I've got something to rely on. That gives me a little bit of structure and confidence. I'm moulded around like Pudy, to make it what it needs to be at that moment, but I can use it as hey, I'm going to rely on that when I need it in the storytelling class that I teach at universities and not so much in the corporate, but universities because we have so much more time together, they'll do impromptu speeches, I'll give them 60 seconds a random topic, if you were President tomorrow, what would you do that just have to speak about it for 60 seconds. At minimum, this is like a this is a Toastmasters exercise, they have to go up in front of the room. That's the famous Table Topics, Table Topics. Yep. And they have to just talk about it for 60 seconds minimum. And once they get that 60 seconds, you lower the timer, and then they can finish their sentence and walk off or they can keep going. But minimum 60 seconds. By doing that over and over, you start to get into the groove, like, Okay, I understand how to apply this to strange questions about aliens or cars, or whatever the CEO is, when when I'm asking them to tell their stories. It's really just to connect with people on the emotional level, build relational trust, usually, because my focus is high trust leadership, when I'm going into an organisation, they've called me because someone or a consultant or someone in the organisation has identified that trust is an issue there. So I just focus on the base trust of personal story type trust, when I go in and work with sales teams and marketing teams, then we start talking about business stories, and how to how to craft your message, your client problem, your deliverable, your pitch, how to get them away from the thing that's hurting them. That kind of stuff is is I think more about content and less about the


Francisco Mahfuz 37:36

Yeah, I get I get I think, you know, again, there's people named stories, all sorts of different ways. But there's a story that you tell to basically tell people that unlike you, or I'm a bit like you, right, you know, I'm you, you bringing me in to talk when I'm going to be a new manager and an engineering company, I need to tell you that I kind of understand the engineering issues to any degree. Otherwise, I'm just at the alien arriving here. So that that's one type of story. And that that is that is a story to build trust and to and to foster openness. It is very different if you're trying to sell something, and then you trying to find the story that shows that the other customer that has gone through that and benefited from that. In that aspect. I get that. I just find interesting how there's so many different approaches to this. And in also curious if if your approach meets less resistance, when it comes to people moaning the way they always moan, how they don't have any stories, and then you have to coax it out of them until they realise Oh, what are those stories? Yes, man. Things that happen to you are stories you just haven't told them yet. So do you find that when you do the the approach you use? Do you get that type of pushback of not knowing what to talk about or not having the stories?


Brian Harman 38:54

Yeah, yeah. And I have to ask 100 questions, just to get through the context, at times. What I did find though, is once you push people to actually get that out, there's this really sort of deep cathartic release that happens is like, wow, I got through that. Now. I can actually picture myself as a storyteller in some way. Like i Hey, I did it once I could do this again. And the personal story is not an easy one to tell. Sometimes I think there's this quote Brene Brown says something like everyone has a story that can bring you to your knees. But that's only if you actually tell the story and actually develop your story. So you've got to get to this place where you're not you're not a blank, faceless in the shadows. Presence, telling your story can change someone's life. Telling your story can give you confidence telling your story can get you a promotion, telling your story can give you give you more trust in the workplace. There's so many benefits so it's, it's a disservice not to share your story. And that's some of the convincing that I have to do with people is like, Okay, walk me through this. Well, no, not just like where you grew up. How did it feel when you were a child? What did you do? What were you good at? What did you like? What friends did you have? How many things siblings did you have How did you interact with your siblings? So I have to push deep and hard to get that stuff out of them sometimes, but then they tell their story. Like, ah, yeah, I did it.


Francisco Mahfuz 40:09

It's that challenge of trying to convince people that they need to show you stuff and not tell you right and says, Okay, fine. So you had a terrible experience with with your boss or with your father or whatever. Now, don't tell me how he was four years. Tell me how he was once at Thanksgiving. So what what did that Thanksgiving look like in this horrible family environment you grew up in? Just tell me that one thing with as much detail as you can. And now I can picture everything else. Like, I don't need you to tell me how it went on for 10 years? Just say? No, it was always like that, after you've given me this super vivid picture of real life. Because, again, family being an easy example that we all have, you know, occasional challenges with, but I think I think that is true for that is true for most stories. And just Just a final one. How different do you find doing the story work with Americans in with Latin Americans?


Brian Harman 41:07

Oh, my gosh, there's so many differences. So number one is Americans are a lot easier to post about their accomplishments and achievements.


Francisco Mahfuz 41:16

Which make for the best dog.


Brian Harman 41:20

And I mean, that's a gross generalisation. But But actually, I found it to be true in the US and Latin America, there's, there's something about the stories that I hear in Peru specifically, where it's never a story about one person, there's somehow always this element of service element of family element of, of connection and bonding. And also, one thing I found is, in some countries, they've actually been through a lot more. Like even though, the reason that I bring up my health issues is because actually, I had a great childhood. I grew up in a pretty wealthy family and a big house and the three brothers, all we did was play and hang out and be competitive together. So I can't really relate to like, a struggling childhood. It's just the cards I was down. But in some countries, that's not the case, they'll have fought tooth and nail to get through high school, where for me high graduating high school is like, everyone in my city graduated high school, there wasn't a single dropout. And 95% of the people went straight off to an Ivy League school. There's just so many more differences. I think always back to my, my mother and father in law. They grew up in Peru, actually. And when my wife was three years old, they had to come to the US because in Peru, there was all sorts of things from economic collapse, to the deflation to political issues, even some terrorism and having to go through that. At that age. They were like, let's say, I think they were in their early 30s. When my wife was three, I'm 36. I'm turning 37. This month, I haven't been through anything like that. That's so gnarly. And what's even crazier is, they actually came to the US with Christina, my wife, and then they couldn't afford to stay. So they had to go back and forth for a few years. Like, how, how could they have gotten through that that's like, that's a new level of adventure and challenge that that I've never faced. And I found that that in some countries, there's more than more systemic issues that are pushing people through external challenges that they that they got through. And it's amazing.


Francisco Mahfuz 43:17

There's the expression that has become a bit of a joke nowadays, which is, you know, first world problems, or, you know, white people's problems is 100% true. You know, I'm from Brazil. But I'm from, you know, a reasonably wealthy part of Brazil and my family was middle class, we weren't particularly you don't have a lot of money. But I still went to like a very good school because I got like a scholarship or something. And my friends were all by most people's standards, they were pretty rich. And then you you compare that to the lives of other people that I met in the same city, and it was just universes apart. So I used to be I used to play capoeira. And most of the people that played Capoeira were pretty, you know, pretty simple people from camera, humble backgrounds, and the type of stuff they told me about the problems they had, to me just sound like movie stuff, right? It's just nothing I could not relate to almost any of that in my experience. And and I think that it might be one of the reasons why I think that Latin Americans have gotten particularly good at finding the stuff to laugh about in life because if you don't develop that skill, you're screwed. You know, there's there's so many problems that you have to cope with on a day to day basis in our daily will politicians and from is from crime and, and sometimes hunger and worse things than that, that if you if you don't learn how to laugh about, about life in general and find joy in simple things, and if it's all just the big achievements, it's pretty hard to to grow up to be the open and friendly people that that I think a lot of have Latin Americans and end up being. So I'm sure there's plenty of plenty of lessons there. If anyone wants to pay attention to that. Yeah,


Brian Harman 45:09

I agree with you completely.


Francisco Mahfuz 45:11

All right, Brian. So if people want a bit more of your stuff now, I'll link up to the, to the book on the shownotes. But where should they go to to find your work on leadership or the human stuff or the storytelling.


Brian Harman 45:26

If you care about people, leadership, trust humour, I'll be on LinkedIn, I post almost every day with either a video or a PDF document that you can download. I like to give as much of the learnings that I've had just a way for people to try to benefit from and that they can use immediately. So I'll be on LinkedIn. Brian Harman, that's where you can find me.


Francisco Mahfuz 45:47

And your your show with the name that will forever confuse you about your your own book, lead life. Love. You guys are putting that out every Monday, right?


Brian Harman 45:56

Yeah, we're on break. Right now. We're setting up for season two.


Francisco Mahfuz 46:02

Season two, I think I think all you need to do to maintain and grow your audience is is release either the bloopers or your singing. I think most of you inflicted your tech song on most of us and fed the bloody awful thing in our heads for weeks. So more of that, I would say don't ever do that again. But also more of that.


Brian Harman 46:27

Yeah, I've got so they've made they've made some blooper reels and they made they put me on my knees are so funny because the guys there. Speaking of hostile humour, we we beat each other down. stuff you would you shouldn't say to people, so we'll we'll post some more bloopers for sure. All right.


Francisco Mahfuz 46:45

Well, thank you very much for a dive mate. I managed to get this through without having to reach out for the for the hard drugs. I'll put that credit to you. And, and I'm sure we'll catch each other on LinkedIn and others days. Yeah. Thank you, Francisco. My pleasure. All right, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.


I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find this show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find this. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com



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