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Everyone Has a Story

For most of us, our daily exchanges with casual acquaintances and strangers are pretty lame.

You know: “How are you?” “Fine.” “ Glad to hear it.” End of conversation.

Perfunctory.  The words just come out.

Sometimes, we don’t want to be rude, but we try to avoid the conversation altogether.  After all, it could be a colossal waste of your time.  Or the person might be one of “those” people, who will tell total strangers about what hurts, what’s swollen, or what itches.  Or you might trigger their inner Glenn Close and then you have to worry that you’ll go home to find your pet rabbit boiling on the stove.

And you might miss an opportunity to be enriched or inspired.

Everyone Has a StoryOne of my Vistage members, Armando (a pseudonym), has a unique and refreshing outlook on the people he meets every day.  Over the years, I’ve noticed that Armando works hard to connect with people that others seem to take pains to ignore.  He’s always asking the waitress, the loading dock worker or the cab driver “one more question.”  His employees roll their eyes and say, “That’s just Armando being Armando.”

He told me this attitude comes from several life-shaping events that took place when he was young and he shared two of them with me.  He and his family emigrated from Cuba to Miami in 1959.  They had been here several years when Armando and his father visited his grandfather in the hospital and an orderly came in to change the bed pan.  The man shouted his father’s name, rushed over and gave his father a big hug.  After a brief conversation, the orderly changed the bed pan and then left the room.  Armando asked his father, “What was that all about?”

His father told him, “That was the doctor who delivered you in the hospital in Cuba.”

Several weeks later, Armando and his father entered a local 7-11, and the man behind the counter shouted and leaned over the counter to embrace Armando’s father.  After his father bought him a Slurpee and they walked out of the store, Armando asked, “OK, who’s he?”

His father explained, “I knew him in Cuba.  He was an admiral in the Cuban Navy.”

Armando said “Ever since then, I take nothing for granted.  You never know.  I learned that everyone has a story, and sometimes the story is amazing. ”

Bike(Note: Armando and I are the same age.  By the time he was ten years old, Armando and his family had endured the Castro revolution, uprooted themselves from their home in Cuba, and moved to Miami.  It is hard for me to relate.  By the time I was ten, the most traumatic event in my life was being forced to ride my sister’s hand-me-down bike in the neighborhood.  A girl’s bike.  As far as I was concerned in my insulated suburban existence, life was not fair.  You’re right, I didn’t have a clue. As a Vistage chair, I am blessed to be able to meet with Armando twice a month and see the world through his eyes. It’s an amazing view.)

I wondered if there was a formula for getting people to share their stories and was fortunate to be introduced to Boaz Rauchwerger . Boaz is a speaker, trainer, and consultant, with boundless energy and enthusiasm.  Boaz talks about the power of “The Five Questions” to connect with, and learn from, other people.

Boaz recommends that you put people at ease and start with a phrase like, “I’m just curious…” and then ask:

  1. Where are you from originally?
  1. (If they’re not from here) What brought you here?  (And if they are from here) Have you lived here all your life?
  1. Do you have a family?
  2. What do you do?
  3. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Once you get someone responding to these questions, be prepared to hear about their lives…and their dreams.

Everyone has a story.  They can inspire and enlighten.  They can lead to business opportunities or lifelong friendships.  They can change your life.

I’m fascinated by personal stories.  I’d love to hear stories you’ve been told by casual acquaintances and strangers that have impacted you in a powerful way.

Tell me your story (200 words or less).  Here’s your chance to uplift or entertain us!

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Karl, I just love your stories! This one reminds me of the importance of stopping and really listening, which I know you are really good at. Thanks for sharing!

    February 21, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Thanks, Kathy. I appreciate it coming from someone who is not only the consummate listener, but who also has a gentle manner to draw the stories out of people. You and I both know that when you’re too busy talking you can miss some extraordinary things.

      February 21, 2012
  2. Two boys met in a deep wood separated by a fast creek. They lived in the same town but went to different schools and didn’t know each other. It was summer vacation and the weather was hot, but the cool water which gurgled beneath the forest canopy drew these two strangers together to search for frogs and fish for brook trout. They became friends and built a fort suspended above the creek on fallen logs. All summer long they sawed and hammered, first securing a small platform floor with scraps they collected from construction waste piles at the local dump, then adding two simple walls and a roof like a miniature covered bridge. Sometimes they talked about why their families didn’t want them playing together or why they didn’t want to return to school in the fall, but mostly they built their fort and played in the stream. Often they brought their lunch and ate in the fort, swapping sandwiches, apples and granola bars. Often they lost track of time and were still turning over damp rocks at dusk when their parents called them for dinner… [Okay, so 200 words wasn't enough... But sometimes an incomplete story trumps a complete story because all options still open!]

    February 28, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      George, forget about the 200 words. I want to hear the rest! Love to hear stories from the master storyteller himself, whether you’re wearing your virtualDavis hat or you’re at Keep it going, my friend. The rest of us are sitting around the campfire waiting…

      February 28, 2012
  3. John Gullman #


    I really enjoy your blog. It is a great read and an easy way to get some inspiration. My story concerns a dear friend who was a business partner, and it was told to me by a college friend of his just before we went into business together. This fellow. I will call Calvin, recently graduated college and was living and working in So. FL. His college buddies thought it was agreat idea to visit Cal during Spring Break and was welcomed with open arms.
    Unfortunaely; Calvin was called out of town on business and he still wanted his buddies to use his place despite his being away. Just before leaving Cal took one of the guys into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator where it was filled with an adult beverage. Thinking he was about to be warned to the limits of his hospitality; Cal surprised his friend and told him he did not want to find one bottle left upon his return.
    I knew right then and there that was the kind of person that I wanted to be my partner. True to form it was a great 12year run. I could not have asked for a better relationship.

    February 29, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      That story sounds familiar… They succeeded – the refrigerator was empty. Thanks, John.

      February 29, 2012

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