Thaler Pekar, storytelling expert, had this to say during a Stanford University speaking engagement: “When you share a story, you will spark a story. That is the power of the story: it is an emergent form of communication, possessing the ability to tap into the experiences of your listener. You can connect seemingly abstract, new information to your listener’s existing web of knowledge.”
Stories might no longer take the same form as when we were kids, but storytelling remains important even in our professional adult lives. Businesses have begun to recognize the power of good storytelling in their marketing initiatives, carving out roles such as Chief Storyteller/ Storytelling Officer at workplaces. Aside from marketing though, stories can be utilized with great impact in other functions as well.
Why stories are effective
Research suggests that when listening to stories, the brain’s complex information processing systems fire up, and the listener’s brain wave patterns synchronize with the storyteller’s. The result is greater engagement and the ability to connect with each other. This connect is what makes storytelling a powerful communication tool for purposes ranging from training, to performance reviews, conflict resolution, and even promoting workplace culture.
Here are some ways in which you can tap into the power of storytelling at your workplace:
- Create empathy
Employing storytelling brings forth multiple perspectives, pushing folks to think from different angles and come up with various interpretations. This leads to more empathetic employees and employers, who are willing to walk in another’s shoes. Like in a good brainstorming session, such activity invites different solutions to a problem, creates an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking and innovation, and if done right, provides a voice to employees across all levels of the organization.
It can also be a tool to successfully negotiate and resolve conflict between employees, teams, and between employees and managers. HR teams and those in charge of internal communications for the organization, can adopt storytelling to communicate with impact, be it in the context of recruitment, retention, or learning and development.
- Make it memorable
Stories help leaders illustrate the company’s ethos and values, making it easier for new employees to understand and imbibe company culture. The impact is stronger when employees are privy to real stories, be it about the company’s approach and teamwork or its founding and origins.
Johnnie Walker employs the founding/origin story to great effect, in presenting the history and legacy that the company has. By describing the characters and the contexts in which they thrived, the founding story becomes memorable and interesting, while highlighting the values that built the business.
- Usher in transformation
When you need to promote a new learning system or propagate behavioral change across all levels of the organization, storytelling can convince people and elicit their buy-in. This is ably demonstrated by Italian house and kitchen wares company, Alessi, which has spent decades ensuring smooth company transformation and organizational change management by utilizing the power of storytelling, to both its internal and external stakeholders.
Stories can also be used to ease the employee feedback and review process. Rather than presenting an employee point-blank, perhaps hurtful feedback during a performance review, a manager can take the storytelling approach to soften the blow. As a story provides contextual feedback, illustrating what was right or could be better in a specific context, it helps the listener reflect on the action or behavior, and eventually paves the way for long-term behavior change. And that’s the goal we wish to achieve, right?