This is a powerful technique to get quickly to the bottom line in reading people and situations. When you ask an open question like “what’s new with you?”, the response you receive will typically be a story or two that are currently grabbing their attention. The surface or content of the story is not the core of the issue. The deeper kernel of truth is inside those stories, waiting to be revealed by a skilled listener.
The Content of A Story
The stories we tell contain four aspects:
1. A person or persons
2. An emotional charge
3. A place
4. A time

How can we distill this truth kernel from a story?

I will share part of a session with a client (shared with permission) to illustrate how it’s done. When I asked what was going on in her life, she told me about the difficulties she was having with her mother, who had recently begun to lose her memory and clearly needed help as she entered this very fragile stage of life. When I asked how she felt about her mother’s situation, she replied that she experienced guilt because her mother lives 300 miles away and had made it clear that she didn’t want to be a burden to her children. In addition, my client had no desire to disrupt her life and move in with her mother, yet could not help but feel she was being remiss in her duties as a daughter.

When I asked her what else was going on in her life, she said she was feeling frustrated because the man she had been seeing was not as available to her due to work and other obligations. And when I probed her for one more piece of her life, she shared that she was concerned about her company. She saw the possibility of needing to do a series of layoffs, and my client was less than thrilled at the prospect.

The Basic Elements 
Let us peel back these stories. For persons we have the daughter, the mother, the man, and work colleagues. For emotional charge we hear confusion, need, guilt, care, frustration and worry. For places there is the mother’s house 300 miles away, a place of work for her, and somewhere far away where the man she’s seeing visits his customers. For time we have some point when the mother might not be able to fend for herself, and another when the company might have to let people go.
Start by uncovering deeper insight from the persons in the story.

What if each of the persons in this story are telling us something about the speaker? Part of her, for example, may feel just like her mother. Or like the work colleagues about to be laid off.

Then peel back the charge. What if we remove the apparent positive or negative charge and see what is present just as energy? And what if all places and all time references are telling us about what is happening here now? 

We are left with I-Energy-Here-Now. You have distilled all the ‘yada yada’ down to what is sitting right in front of you: this client encountering all these experiences right in front of you. 

See It All As Their Growing Edge
So what happens when we distill all the characters, charges, places and times out of this client’s story? Underneath the daughter-mother story we can feel a deep caring, otherwise neither one would have felt guilty or worried. Underneath the woman-man story we can feel honesty and clarity trying to make itself available, otherwise neither would be frustrated or inattentive. The uncertainty surrounding the work situation might be an overlay of the same dynamic: life asking her to take a stand for herself.
You might enjoy trying this technique on yourself. Write a paragraph in answer to the question, “What’s going on in your life?” Choose two or three stories, then have a look. Peel away the characters until there is only you. Where there is positive or negative feeling, peel away the charge—perhaps what appeared in the story as positive is also negative or vice versa. Distill the story as an essential dynamic of I-Energy-Here-Now. Turn it around and look at it from different angles. Some truth kernel will likely show itself. In my client’s example, she discovered that she was feeling uncared for in her own life and it was time to take a stand for herself. What is your growing edge at this time?

David Lesser
Founder & CEO