Many of us say we want to promote change and influence those in power – but when we are in that effort, how can we be most successful?

According to primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, it’s about getting into their hearts and minds through the power of storytelling.

“So often, I see activists and they come face-to-face with a CEO or somebody — and they immediately become very aggressive (with phrases like): ‘Do you realize what you’re doing to the planet?’ (or) ‘Do you realize what you’re doing to my future?'”

“So, the person that they’re attacking is immediately defensive. They’re immediately thinking ‘How can I respond to this?’ (or) ‘How can I deal with this person?’,” Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

The power of storytelling

That isn’t the answer. Don’t put people on the defensive, explains Goodall, but rather use storytelling to inspire them and understand what you are seeing and why.

“It’s no good when you meet somebody like that, who’s dedicated to their path — which may be a destructive path — it’s no good trying to get to the brain, because their brain is wired for success, for financial success.”


It’s all about getting inside their mind and heart and making them feel what you are feeling. “What you have to do is to get into the heart. And how do you get into the heart? With stories.”

“Find out just a little bit about the person that you want to change and then you try and tell stories that will — even if they don’t appear to agree with you at the time — I know for a fact that they may go away and think about it and think about it.”

That can make a big difference in them understanding what you are trying to tell them. “And you may have scored a much bigger point than you thought.”

At 84, Goodall is continuing to raise awareness, and has done so for most of her life, so clearly she knows what she is talking about.