Machiavellian Storytelling

A sneaky little trick my coworker uses when a friend has a bad habit but she doesn’t want deal with the awkwardness of calling them out on it.

In my last post, A Leadership Tip for the Problem Solver, I shared a good way to coach people to do what you want them to do, not by telling them what they did wrong, but rather by expressing your satisfaction when someone else (within earshot of the targeted person) did something right.

There is a similar but rather devious trick that my coworker shared with me which she likes to call “Machiavellian Storytelling”, with a tongue-in-cheek dramatic tone. It goes like this:

If a friend exhibits a behavior that she doesn’t like, she’ll make a mental note of it and choose a moment to share a story where she disapproves of someone else’s same bad behavior.

For example, a friend keeps showing up late. You make a mental note of it and you wait a certain amount of time so as to keep your scheme unobvious. Then you say something like: “The other day, I had this friend show up late to XYZ…” and finish your story with something of the effect of: “I just hate it when someone just cant be punctual, you know?”

Someone who is self-conscious enough will identify with the person you are talking about. They’d then realize that their behaviour displeases you. If they care about your opinion, they will attempt to correct their behavior.

The upside:

  • You avoided confrontation, and so you avoided awkwardness, dealing with their defensiveness, bruising their ego, and so on.
  • Change can come from their own volition, which is more satisfying for both parties.

It is possible that you raise a small suspicion that there’s an agenda to your storytelling, but it’s unlikely that they call you out on it; you’ve essentially given them an opportunity to remove a bad habit while saving face. Why through it away?

The downside:

  • If you don’t wait long enough, or the story you tell is too similar to what just happened, your ploy will be blatant and you will offend them. The mechanics of this technique is not unlike telling white lies; the goal is to smooth out interactions but your sincerity must be plausible enough.
  • You might not have a real story on hand. In some cases, if you want to do this, you will need to make up the story or not. My coworker is willing to go there. I myself would rather address the issue directly.

That being said, the trick will still come in handy for those of you who are the honest types. For the times that you do link your friends’ behavior with a similar anecdote of yours, you’ll have the extra motivation to share it with your friend. It’s worth a try!

Help me improve my writing

Fellow readers! If you have any comments on how I can make my articles better, whether it’s the grammatical/orthographic side of things, or the style or the content itself, please don’t hesitate to comment on it. I appreciate all constructive feedback :)

In this article, in particular, I’m wondering about:

  • Was this a trick worth sharing? Is this something you’d try yourself?
  • Should I have included an anecdote of my own? I thought it might make the article too long and that the point was made…



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