Story Tellers and Brain Whisperers

PIRATE: “Dead men tell no tales.”

DEAN: “But the rest of us sure as hell do– with every breath we take.”

You tell tales to your clients, to your employees, to your family.
You tell ’em to yourself.

We may not all be Pirates, (as much as we might like to be…)
But we are all Story Tellers and Brain Whisperers.

I study the brain and decision-making, and I teach a summary course to CEOs and their Teams on the shortcuts and triggers the brain uses to make decisions.

Scientists call these shortcuts “cognitive biases” but for today let’s call them “brain whispers”.

We whisper stories to our brain all day long, along with the brains of everyone we want to influence.

You tell stories with almost every breath you take.

And breath and story are related… 
There are two main types of story: Aspirational and Perspirational.

Aspire from the Latin “to breathe”.
Perspire from the Latin “through breath”.

Aspirational stories focus on hope: what we want to have happen
Perspirational stories focus on fear: what we sweat about.

Make no value judgement: they are both powerful story types (what experts refer to as narrative architectures).

They are both powerful frames with which we build meaning in the world around us. 

Framing (what scientists call “contrast effect”) was observed as far back as at least the 1600’s when John Locke wrote that room temperature water will be perceived as either hot or cold, depending on what your hand touched BEFORE that water…. (here’s my 1 minute video describing Framing) 

Framing is the single most important concept to understand if you want to influence a client or a Team in their perception of a thing… What is something? Is it cheap or expensive? Is it old or new? Is it risky or safe?” Well that depends on what we are comparing or contrasting it to…

Your words, labels, and stories create your frames for comparison.

The brain loves story because the brain seeks pattern for understanding–and story allows us to connect patterns to find meaning. 

Humans have always learned through stories and we take directional cues from what we learn.

Ancient Mariners looked for patterns in the stars–and they told stories about those patterns in the night sky to guide them across a dark sea. Those weren’t random stars– there were pictures there… you remember as a child finding the Big Dipper in the night sky, right?

Pattern. Story. Meaning. 

It’s how we persuade our clients, our employees, our kids, and ourselves.
STORY definitely matters. 

People remember stories.
They are influenced to buy products with stories.


People vote for stories.
(So says Mark McKinnon… and he should know.)


Mark McKinnon

I have admired Mark for years. And because I’m the luckiest kid on the planet I had a chance to tell him that when we met on a flight this year. 

I call him “the Story Whisperer” because he has framed some of the most powerful stories in the political world. In one case, the stories he framed got someone elected President. In another case he knew that his skill in story telling might result in a win for his candidate but a larger loss for our country and so he chose not to apply his considerable skills to that situation (a reason for my deep admiration). 


In interviews Mark talks about the “narrative architecture” that wins elections… “stories with two primary focuses: Fear and Hope…”

I just want to point out that sometimes story telling is overt and loud (political ads), sometimes it is covert and quiet (just little “brain whispers”).  


But either way your brain is listening all the time to the story-telling-whispers around you.

And just like those ancients used stars, we use story to guide us directionally.

Change your story and change your direction.

We can change our frame and change our direction by changing a single word… (See Video Two on RE-FRAMING)

We tell ourselves stories with labels and words.
And we see what we say.
“I see what you’re saying.”

Changing what we say, changing the story we tell, by extension changes the direction we go.

Mario Andretti famously advised new race car drivers: “Don’t look at the wall, your car goes where your eyes go.”

We go in the direction we are looking.
Last week I drove the race car into the wall (metaphorically speaking). 

And I was sweating because of the wreck I caused.

I gotta be honest, I was hurting. Deep down hurting.

Last week we dropped the Birdie off at college.

And I found myself that week using the words “amputation without anesthesia” to describe the feeling I was left with after leaving Devon off at Drexel University. 

But what was I focusing on there? 

My pain of leaving a piece of my living heart left in a dorm. 

(And while that feeling may be universal… and I have proof that I am in really good company… is that REALLY what I want to focus on?) 

Obama: Dropping Malia off at college was ‘like open-heart surgery’CNN

Again… what is the story we are telling?

The story I was telling myself would be like a pirate focusing on wrecking his ship, or as Andretti said: a race car driver focusing on hitting the wall. 

Because our brain takes us in the direction we focus on…

Changing what we say, changing the story we tell, by extension changes the direction we go.

So here’s where re-framing comes in… that’s the quick little Video Two I referenced above…

While in tears last week thinking about what I perceived as the loss of my daughter, I recalled the words of my friend Dr. Bill Crawford and a tip he gave me on re-framing loss.  


Dr Bill is someone else I admire greatly, and who I am honored to call a friend… 

You may know him from his PBS Specials or from his award-winning Vistage/TEC Talks. 


He is what I would call “a World Class Brain Whisperer” because he can teach you how to calm your brain down in 5 steps that take less than a minute to apply.

Dr Bill told me once to describe the tears shed for a loved one, or a loved time, as“liquid love”


Whhhhooooaaaaaa. That’s cool.

Thinking of our tears not as pain but as a manifestation of love we are able to re-frame what we are experiencing. 

Listen to the difference one word can make in these micro-stories:
“I HAVE to drop my daughter off at College.” (Perspirational)
“I GET to drop my daughter off at College.” (Aspirational)

What a difference a word makes.
Difference. Contrast. Context.

If you would like a deeper dive video (11 minutes) on applying Framing to sales situations by ASKING QUESTIONS… check out Video Three that I uploaded this month.

As always if you’d like me to contribute to one of your meetings via webinar or as aWorkshop and Keynote Speaker to help you and your Team GET TO YES FASTER® you know how to find me.

Summary Thoughts:

There is Brain Science behind Story.
The brain looks for pattern and meaning for direction.

Story can provide the framing for understanding and guidance. 

Stories are like whispers to the brain.
Change your story and change your direction (for yourself, for your company).
Are your stories Aspirational? 

Or are they Perspirational? (And both types have their place.)

This Month’s Videos:

Video One is a quick review of the concept of FRAMING as it applies to how the brain perceives anything; 

Video Two is also a minute long and gives you a way to RE-FRAME SITUATIONS in your personal life; 

Video Three is a deeper dive on the power of ASKING QUESTIONS to control and create context (framing) in sales situations.