Each one of us has a life story. But, it is not a chronological list of all the experiences we have had. Rather, our story comprises of key events that have impacted us – a new job, moving cities, loss of a loved one, etc. And we tell our stories a lot.
Can we employ our stories in our work? Absolutely.
- 3M has banned bullet points in presentations, and replaced them with a process of writing a story that paints a picture of the future. They call it strategic narratives.
- P&G hires Hollywood directors to teach its executives how to lead better with storytelling.
Princeton researcher Uri Hasson found that listening to a story syncs the brains of the storyteller and the listener. Those listening feel the exact emotions and thoughts expressed by the storyteller. Thus, stories are ideal for motivating people to deliver on your organizational strategy, communicating your vision, building better teams, and employee engagement.
But is there a right kind of story to tell?
Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams says we tell two kinds of stories:
- Redemption stories, which show how someone’s experience went from bad to good. For example, Bill Gates, whose first business Traf-O-Data, a hardware device that could read traffic data tapes, failed. The device didn’t work, hitting Gates with a financial setback. But, he says, it was through that experience that he learnt to build stronger products for Microsoft.
- Contamination stories, which remain in the negative, and don’t show the silver lining or growth. An example is Nouncer – a microblogging website which came into being before Twitter. But wary of competition, its founder Eran Hammer completely gave up the concept – a decision, he later admitted, that led to the failure of Nouncer, and its eventual shutdown.
It’s worthwhile to know that telling redemption stories helps us find more purpose and meaning – a quality that millennials look for in their work. It also leads us to contribute more to our work, and improves our mental well-being.
Wondering how you can tell such stories? Look at some negative experiences in your life, and tell them out loud a few times till you find your growth moments. Even making small edits and reinterpretations will help you find control over the event, and shift towards a positive lens.
As psychologist Adam Grant found, you could start with noticing how you positively impact your co-workers, especially on high-stress days. You’ll end up narrating the day differently!