Once upon a time, the Persian king of all kings, Shahryār, beheaded his wife after discovering she was unfaithful. Overcome with rage, the monarch resolved to exact revenge on womankind by taking a new wife each night and beheading her the next morning.
After most of the eligible women in the kingdom had either fled or been killed, Scheherazade, the daughter of the king’s advisor, devised a scheme to save herself and future victims. Scheherazade insisted on marrying the monarch, and on their first night together she told him a story, without revealing the ending.
The king permitted her to live another day to finish her tale, and so she continued with her cliffhangers for 1,001 nights. Eventually, Scheherazade’s stories caused the king to have a change of heart, realise the injustices he had wrought and cease his vengeful rampage. Scheherazade, the narrator of the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, earned her place as one of the shrewdest heroines in world literature.
While this story was set in the Islamic Golden Age, Scheherazade could be considered a highly effective coach or psychotherapist today. Through storytelling techniques, she awakened the king’s curiosity, challenged his behaviour and managed to change his outlook on life.
Scheherazade’s form of psychological intervention can be applied to different situations.
Manfred Kets de Vries is the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change at INSEAD and the Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Chaired Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus. He is the Programme Director of The Challenge of Leadership, one of INSEAD’s top Executive Education programmes. The article is available here: https://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-organisations/how-change-someones-mind