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Avoiding the Trap of Single Stories

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

How do we create stories that humanize rather than dispossess?

Stories have the power to shape the way we see the world around us. That is why single stories are so effective in their creation of incomplete stereotypes. But, when we refuse to settle for the single-story, we can use stories to restore dignity and humanize.

I must have watched her video at least 40 times by now and if you are reading this: Chimamanda Adichie, I am so grateful for your TED talk in 2009!

The Danger of the Single Story is such a powerful talk and although I LOVE the work of Sir Ken Robinson: I think the Danger of the Single Story should become the most-watched TED talk.

Understanding Single Stories

We really need to understand the danger of the single-story, starting with ourselves. Our world is polarizing because we willfully believe single stories or willfully (and sometimes maliciously) tell single stories!

We make our story about people the definitive story about them and we soon foolishly or maliciously start telling that story to others as the definitive story about 'those people', 'that boss', 'their department', 'the other team', the crazy colleague', 'the impossible client', 'the pain in the... supplier'.

Chimamanda says in her talk: "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete".

Single stories have a powerfully negative effect in that they "rob people of dignity". Stories can be used to malign or dispossess, but stories can also be used to restore dignity and humanize.

One lesson that stood out to me is that: "Single stories make it impossible for me to see the other person as equal to me"! Most of the time we use single stories to make ourselves look more sophisticated, more advanced, more civilized, better leaders, better period! But the intended or unintended consequence is that we disconnect from each other!

This is why I am so excited about Inter-Cultural Intelligence. It allows us to accurately analyse the intercultural world around us and equips us with ways to develop skills and competencies that will make us better leaders, compose more effective teams, build more valuable client relationships, guide mergers through to success and create corporate cultures that resonate in a global and interculturally complex world.


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