I have to admit I was a little intimidated by GU‘s invitation to work with their sales team. As a long-time retailer, I worried my one-sided experience would make my messaging less relevant to vendors. Part of me was expecting the room of fifty-plus sales reps from across the country to like at me like, “What the heck could this guy possibly offer me?”

But I had it all wrong.

Besides hiring me to give a closing presentation, GU invited me to attend the entirety of their sales meeting. I sat in the back of the gym-turned-meeting-room and felt as if I’d been granted a peek behind their proverbial veil.

I learned a ton. My heart raced as I took eight pages of frenzied notes. I wrote countless ideas in the margins about how GU might draw more attention to themselves in the future. The more I got to know them, the more engaged I became.

Three statements struck me during the opening session:

“We are an organization built on personal need.”
“We are driven to determine what it takes for individuals to achieve personal success.”
“We are in a constant state of evolution.”

These comments directly referred to GU’s birth story. But they are also easily be applied to life.

I firmly believe such values give solid direction to a brand, team, organization, or even an individual. We all need a starting point in order to go anywhere.


To my surprise, the sales team’s conversations, concerns, complaints and celebrations were not as industry specific as I expected. In fact, my biggest take away had nothing to do with nutrition (even though I did learn a lot about that, too).

As the meeting progressed, its theme took shape. One that was only obliquely stated at the outset. The concept of storytelling. The innate need to understand each others’ motivations and inspirations. The sorts of things that create communion and alliance with another human being.

This detail alleviated my lingering anxiety. Why? Because it validated what I already knew: When we know each others’ stories, we create the opportunity for a deeper connection.

Up until that point, I’d only shared this message with retailers, with folks whose language I speak comfortably. But vendors are basically retailers in a different outfit, so why wouldn’t it readily apply to them, too?

Bottom line, our humanity naturally bonds us together. But it must be sought, and we must make ourselves vulnerable to share it. That’s the tricky part.


Back in the mid-90s when I started my career as a teacher, my mentor gave me some great advice.

“Tom,” she said, “you’re always going to have a cross-section of students—some you’ll truly enjoy and others you won’t like one bit.”

This news came as a shock, not because of what she said, but because she put it so bluntly.

“Your goal,” she said, “is to figure out how to make your least favorite student your favorite.”

When I asked her how to do this, she gave me that teacherly look like I should already know the answer. Her answer was simple. “Get to know their story.”

Now, more than twenty years later, her words continue to resonate. And though they apply to the clients I work with, they also apply to each and every one of us in our day-to-days.

Upset by a client? Get to know their story.

Angry at a lazy coworker? Get to know their story.

Our willingness to authentically connect (or reconnect) with people in our lives creates the foundation for a authentic connection.

Something we all crave. No exception. Whether or not we are aware of it.


During a group conversation on the final day of GU’s meeting, someone in the crowd made a comment that blanketed the room with silence.

He prefaced, “It takes a collaborative approach to capitalize on channels and customers who are more comfortable online…but therein lies the opportunity…”

We all waited for more.

He took a breath and said, “Change, as an action, change as an evolutionary tool, is the one and only thing we’ve got. Isn’t that exciting?”

It was, but it needed a second to sink in. And as it did, the room nodded enthusiastically, quietly agreeing that the old story needs a serious rewrite.

Everyone left Berkeley committed to do just that.

Tom Griffen is an educator, staff trainer, and professional storyteller. He will help your team create deeper and more powerful human connections…and what business doesn’t want that! Contact Tom for more information!

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