I've met people from all walks of life. People on the top of the hill, to those at the bottom of the trenches. With unimaginable wealth to the poorest of poor. Some are out for themselves while others give back.

From my collective experiences, I realized that trust is the foundation of any relationship you're in, whether it is a marriage, a partnership, or  employee-employer relationship.

Trust is powerful. Research shows that when you have trust in the relationship, you cooperate more with each other and you solve problems better.

But trust is harder to come by than we might think. 

The Problem: Without trust, relationships fall apart. And it's not easy to build trust.


Most of the people I have met in the last three years were only looking out for themselves. They could be charming, but ultimately had ulterior motives. These relationships die fast, and sometimes they don't even begin, as I couldn't trust them enough to share anything personal with them or let them into my network.

On the other hand, a handful of people I've met wanted to collaborate and work together towards common goals. Sure, there are a few bad apples, but most of these relationships have stood the test of time. But why?

There's trust.

But how do you create trust fast with someone in a genuine way?

The Solution: Story whispering allows you to rapidly build trust with anyone.


The answer might just lie within one of the key people I have met and worked closely with: Ian Chew. Ian is a researcher and writer who has helped me a lot over the course of the last year, with editing and being a soundboard to bounce off ideas. Due to his humility and willingness to go above and beyond, when he asked me to mentor him, I accepted.

And guess what, he is one of the few people I have met that I trust.

But why do I trust him?

Was it because he went above and beyond when he was assigned an unpaid task? Or was it because he was always mindful and connecting me with other entrepreneurs?

No.

It came down to how he listened and interacted with me.

He never once tried to sell me his story. In fact, he did something totally different. He became a story whisperer.

What is a story whisperer?

In my career, I've been trained to believe that facts tell and stories sell. Then I started to master the art of the story. But Ian's journey led him to find a path that's the exact opposite of mine, yet equally, if not more, effective.

Story whispering is almost the complete opposite of storytelling.

Instead of focusing on telling your story, your goal as a story whisperer is to understand someone's story as much as possible.

The concept of story whispering transformed his life, and he shared the lessons behind becoming a story whisperer for the first time at TEDxMoncton.

But he didn't discover this overnight. The results of how Ian learned to communicate took much time to develop. While he was a student, Ian spent three years interviewing 700 people -- everyone from homeless people all the way up to high-level entrepreneurs like John Corcoran, former Clinton White House speechwriter.

It wasn't an easy process, as Ian used to have a lot of social anxiety. There were times he couldn't walk out of the house, as his fear towards people and social situations overwhelmed him.

But then, one day, he came across the popular photojournalism project, Humans Of New York. Inspired by the stories, he started reaching out to strangers on the streets and over the internet, so that he could interview them.

While he was terrified to put himself out there, things started clicking for him. Ian realized that people trusted him much faster than he thought he could with storytelling. He would have people sharing with him long personal life experiences within 15 minutes after meeting him.

The experience changed his life. He went from being crippled by social anxiety, to living a life with meaning.

How does story whispering tie into trust?

When you understand someone's story, the person will trust you more. When the person trusts you more, you can communicate with them more effectively, and that paves the way towards a common understanding --- a common solution.

When you have trust on both sides, you break down communication barriers.

But how do you become a story whisperer?

The key to story whispering: listening and asking the right questions


The two essential qualities of a story whisperer are listening and asking the right questions. You listen. You ask questions. And you do it again and again until the person trusts you and you get the person's full life story.

Ian shared the story of how he interviewed an older man, John (pseudonym), on the streets one evening. The interview was for one of his projects, Humans of Sackville, which features the stories of strangers Ian met for the first time.

In their interview, Ian asked John, "What's the best thing that has happened to you in life?"

Smiling, John replied, "When I got married... And my wife had two kids. Those are the happiest moments."

His thoughtful approach to listening to John's story had a far larger impact than he expected. When the picture went viral online, John's family members contacted Ian to share how much they were moved by the story.

It turned out that John had early stage Alzheimer's and dementia. Sometimes, he would forget who they were. The picture became an important reminder of his love for them.

It was trust that allowed Ian to build the connection with John, but also with his family members and the larger community -- other people who have families. He told me:

"Storytelling is important. But what's more important is your ability to be a story whisperer. When we use story whispering to understand each other's stories, we can trust each other much faster than we can."

Take action: Let's connect our stories!


Are you ready to build trust faster with story whispering? Ian issued a thoughtful challenge to the TEDx audience, which I will leave with you to consider: "In the next 7 days, ask someone this question 'What's your story?'... and just listen."

Published on: Jun 28, 2016