The Ask vs. The Story

With lobbying on The Hill, the approach is generally focused around “The Asks”.

Yet, if so much of DC is networking, then I think it important to acknowledge the importance of building relationships. At the recent Legislative Fly-in, current AVMA Fellow and former SAVMA President Matt Holland shared his life strategy: “Build relationships”. I couldn’t agree more, Matt.

From my experience, “The Story” is the approach for building relationships. What do I mean by, “The Story”? I alluded to relationship building through collaborative efforts in my previous post, “The Ag Salon”. The day after the Ag Salon, I heard Rob Burnett, CEO of Well Told Story, speak at the Chicago Council on Global Food Security Symposium in D.C. about his company’s success of increasing the use of contraception among their audience. Rob Burnett spoke about a girl who discovered that if she made a particular side salad offered for free with her eggs, she tripled her sales. During an interview, the girl was asked if she had any kids, plans for family or a baby on the way. She responded, “What, a baby now? That’s gonna spoil everything.” If giving a reason to someone, something to protect, is the most compelling pro-contraceptive message effect, then changing the story they tell themselves changes their behavior and life prospects. Simply put, to this effect, The Story changed behavior.

At the USIP talk I attended, Rep. McGovern described an interview with a woman for an indictment against the President. This woman had seen her entire family killed in Chad. She told him that sharing Her Story is the reason worth living, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

During legislative fly-in, students were told to share a personal story to their congressmen about the Student Loan Forgiveness Program. In this way, The Story aided in advocacy.  

Rob Burnett concluded it’s not about The Ask, it’s about The Story that the audience is telling themselves. This resulted in a 20% increase in contraception use of their audience. “Sticky” Stories, as Rob referred to them, are authentic. They are from the heart, and thus inspire trust and ultimately inspire change. If we can conquer the desire not to preach or lecture but help find the desire within others, such a skill is invaluable in achieving goals and building relationships.

My favorite thing to ask of people is the how they came to be where they are and from there, the why. What were the opportunities and moments that moved them forward along their career path? In those moments, I learn about their motivations and personal values, which, to me, is how to best understand someone’s decision-making process and collaborate more effectively.

The Asks are important. People need to know what are your end goals. However; sometimes it’s important to consider the conversation in between. Buy in to the story, and then deliver the ask or start with the ask up front.