Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2013 Brian Remer
Updated Nov. 2013

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

Read new 99-Word Stories written by readers like you! Click HERE for the latest entries.

November 2013

Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.

The Need to Talk
I awoke excited, looking forward to the day's discoveries. But on the radio I heard distressing news. As it rolled around in my head, I sank deeper into the doldrums. By the time I arrived at the office my mood had become a mirror of that bleak, rain-swept November Monday.

Then I spoke to a colleague about the story I'd heard. He listened, nodding, silent. Immediately I felt better, less burdened.

Saying something out loud, getting it off your chest and onto the table, can change the mood. By noon, the sun had come out.


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.


There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

I have often been surprised at the insights to be gained by translating thoughts into words. As an introspective person, I probably spend an inordinate amount of time recirculating ideas through my mental processes. But as soon as those concepts are translated into words that I can hear, new connections are made. Why does this happen? Well, I've been doing some thinking about thatů

Putting ideas and emotions into words provides distance. When we describe an event or a situation, we begin to tell a story. And when telling a story, we see ourselves as a character. We develop that character and a revised point of view evolves adding more dimension than when the thoughts were simply revolving through our mental cycle.

Having a good listening partner is an important factor in making this sort of personal reflection productive. The listener provides an opportunity for us as the speaker to become that character in a story, an individual once removed from our own self. A good listener also helps lighten the load when we are sharing a burdensome issue. The trick for listeners is to give their friend a hand up without falling into the same pit. There's no sense in doubling the number of depressed people! So what are the strategies and skills of a good listener?

In his book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, Clifford Nass (read a review in the April 2011 issue of the Firefly News Flash) describes a number of experiments designed to shed light on how best to make an emotional connection with another person. He found that we are more satisfied with a listener who is upbeat if we are happy and we are more satisfied with one who is low key if we are feeling down. Nass suggests we make our initial connection to another person at their emotional plane before we try to "change" the direction of their mood.

There are also specific techniques a listener can use to draw out more thoughts and emotions from a speaker. The use of open questions, queries that take more than a few words to answer, can result in detailed, thought-filled insights. Open questions often begin with words like "what," "how," "where," or "when." Closed questions, those that can be answered in a few words, often begin with "do," "does," "did," "is," "are," "was," "have," or "has." Avoid starting a question with these words and you can open the way for critical thinking.

With a bit of planning, most closed questions can be transformed into open questions. For example, instead of asking, "Do you think the meeting was productive?" you might say, "What was the most productive activity of the meeting?" Another example: Instead of, "Have you read the new incentive policy?" you could ask, "How might the new incentive policy change the way you lead your team?"

An easy way to learn more about listening is to connect with the International Listening Association (ILA). This organization promotes research into better listening for understanding. Read a review of this organization in the March 2012 issue of the Firefly News Flash. In addition, the Human Library is an international organization promoting listening and dialogue in order to encourage understanding of controversial or marginalized viewpoints in society.

When we feel burdened by a swirl of emotions internally, we are also distracted from the external needs of the people and projects at work. Having a good listener makes it possible to step off our mental merry-go-round and gain a clear head to be present for the moment.


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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