Annette Simmons, M.ED, is the CEO of Group Process Consulting and author. She has been featured on CNBC’s Power Lunch, NPR’s Market Watch, numerous talk radio programs, and quoted in Fortune, Working Woman, Harvard Business Review, The Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post. She is valued for her expertise in social psychology and leadership development.
Work groups follow certain patterns. Research in social psychology, game theory and behavior economics reveal most group patterns are more easily predicted by tracking the emotions of a group, than by reading their latest action plan.
In this and other ways most groups are the same. Groups progress in fairly common patterns, without a strong leader. With certain interventions (i.e. leadership activities) groups can become so cohesive and engaged that they can achieve miracles.
My intense curiosity about predictable group processes and effective interventions by leadership or by a facilitator continues to drive me today. I first picked up a book about psychology when I was 14, I started Group Process Consulting when I was 35, and I began to seek answers to vital questions via qualitative research and experimentation. My primary questions have been:
- Why do groups fight to the point that they sabotage themselves? I report on the research I conducted in the book called Territorial Games.
- How could I get a group who is stuck in apathy or burning with anger, at an impasse to face each other, come into the same room and tell themselves the hard truths, instead of pretending that someone else is to blame? I wrote my thesis on this in graduate school and tested the model in experiments with groups that needed truth telling, and were initially unwilling to participate. I wrote down everything I learned and created an agenda for any facilitator to use as a template in the book A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths.
- If every group is unique, how do we find a reliable tool that works with all groups? What tool can be adapted to fit any group and any leader. I discovered that storytelling is the universal communication tool that will achieve “better communication” for any group in any situation. The book I wrote to share everything I learned about storytelling is called The Story Factor.
- If I can’t be everywhere (I’m turning 50 and that’s when you know for sure you can’t be everywhere) then how can I make sure I share what I know about teaching storytelling with as many people as possible. The book Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins is a workbook designed to give people a textbook or a personal DIY project so you develop at least 24 stories you can use at work.
I started reading psychology books when I was fourteen. I did this initially because my Dad, a social worker, gave me books like Transactional Analysis and Rational Emotive Therapy, and then continued because I thought this knowledge might help me figure out how to become more popular in high school (I don’t need to tell you how that turned out).
I am not a natural “feeler” so my understanding of human behavior and the art of communication includes all of the small details a “natural” might miss.
Dad wouldn’t let me study psychology (no money in it) so I got a degree in Marketing from Louisiana State University (the psychology of persuasion). I moved to Australia (long story) during my twenties and early thirties first working in export with Ericsson, then on the Ford account at J. Walter Thompson.
Blindly encountering the differences in between America and Australia, then Japan, Philippines, Europe, Hong Kong, I bumped, crashed, and eventually learned to surf the waves of cultural differences. I learned that meaning is arbitrary – what is important to one culture may or may not be important to another.
Story is the DNA of all meaning –nothing is important without the story you tell yourself about it.
Knowing “story is the DNA” and using story as a tool are two different things. My Masters in Adult Ed. and Psychology from NC State in 1994 helps me design training that sticks and tools that we use rather than tools we know we “should use.” I still study psychology as well as dipping into any field that is relevant…behavior economics, social psychology, neuroscience and others.
Story always improves communication. I think that is why my book The Story Factor was listed as One of the 100 Best Business Books Ever Written. My book Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, is a DIY workbook and is used as a textbook in several communications courses.
Story always improves communication.
Before focusing on stories, I wrote about micro-behaviors people use to keep others out. (Still had a chip on my shoulder about high school, I guesss…) My first book, Territorial Games: Understanding and Ending Turf Wars discusses a powerful model/tool to prompt self examination without raising defenses.
I like inventing tools. I looked at groups who were stuck, or as we phrase it in the south: “on their last nerve.” Either no one wanted to break the silence or no one would shut up. As a result of that, In I developed a process to prompt individuals to self-regulate so everyone can have a say and the group can move on. This process is documented in A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths: Overcoming Fear and Distrust at Work. My design is a process to prompt individuals to self-regulate so everyone can have a say and the group can move on.
I love what I do.
So far, I’ve written four books that have been translated into eleven languages. I can’t believe I have over thirty years of study and experience. But I do, and it’s a bountiful harvest when I can help others by designing and delivering tools and training that improve the flow of stories. I love what I do.
There are so many stories that need to be told. Sometimes I feel like my job is simply to cure story blindness. Lucky for us, it is much, much easier to cure than color blindness!
Writing over the years
Territorial Games Jan 15, 1998
The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (Updated with a Bonus Chapter, New Techniques, and New Stories) [Third Printing] Jan 1, 2006
A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths: Using Dialogue to Overcome Fear and Distrust at Work Apr 23, 2006
Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact May 9, 2007
Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact May 20, 2015
The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling Oct 8, 2019
Drinking from a Different Well: How Women’s Stories Change What Power Means in Action Oct 4, 2021
Blogging at annettesimmons.com and differentwell.com