Shadow stories are the stories people tell themselves and other people that run counter to your messages of transformation. They’re a bit like cockroaches in that most of them are hidden. For every one in the open you can bet there are a hundred others living in the walls, breeding like crazy. Australia and New Zealand have relatively polite business cultures, and only the most straightforward people will tell you directly what they are thinking if it’s unpleasant for you to hear.

Some shadow stories people might be telling themselves are these:

‘He’s been promising the same thing for two years and nothing has happened. There’s no reason to believe him now.’

‘The IT group don’t have any understanding of what we really do. They spend a lot of money running big projects that don’t bring us any benefit.’

‘They’re just using us until the new automation systems are up and running. Then we’ll all lose our jobs.’

‘They tell us self-service is about working smarter not harder, but it just seems to mean I don’t have my admin staff anymore and I have to work longer hours to get things done.’

‘I’ll nod as if I’m going along with it, but really I think it’s a bad idea. I’m not going to take any action on it.’

‘There's just something about her I don’t like.’

‘Their new tagline is Exceeding Your Expectations. What a joke.’

Shadow stories express things that people are mistrustful, fearful, angry, frustrated or confused about. Shadow stories stop people from making positive changes. They can bring any transformation, project or good idea to a screeching halt.

Being aware of the things that attract shadow stories can help you to avoid them, neutralise them, seed more positive stories to replace them, or even just bring them into the light so you can talk about them openly.

Here are a few questions to help you identify where you might be attracting shadow stories:

  • Where do your actions not match your message?  

  • Where are your messages and stories only partly true?

  • In what ways might people be unclear on your message and what it means for them?

  • Where are you missing opportunities to make a more human connection with others, so your messages will be better received?

Address these issues and you’ll go a long way towards making those shadow stories disappear.