Over the past 12 months I have heard repeatedly in a work context the theme about the value of communication through stories. The idea that we connect with others over a concept far more if it is told as a story, than as a business case, a marketing concept or a factual outline. That telling stories improves your chances of other people understanding your message because it communicates across workplace silo’s, reduces jargon, offers people a shared feeling to connect on and hence see your idea in relation to their own experience. That telling stories encourages collaboration, allows others to share their view of how your story can happen.
I’m a storyteller. I ramble, talk, chat, create verbal stories incessantly. So this theme appeals to me – finally others would see the value of putting an idea in context, creating real life scenarios around theory, placing plans within a framework of people and real life practice. A story offers you something human about the storyteller – a sense of their own values, their own experience, their own vision of where they want to go with an idea.
I’m also very focussed on results, here and now. So I can also experience telling stories as timewasting, that outlining an idea would now take a lot, lot longer. A culture which encourages story telling also means those hearing the story require patience, an openness to hearing the whole message. They can also mean that the storyteller feels more personally attached to their way of telling the story; that questioning, critiquing, retelling the story can be taken personally, be seen as questioning the storyteller’s reality.
Telling stories is not a statement of facts. It’s not a business case view of the world. As a child been told I was ‘telling stories’ was often a way to say I had been making things up, creating something I put forward as truth but was from my imagination, lying.
As an adult storyteller I can do parts of this still. I can take the bare bones of a story and polish it, remove long winded explanations, digressions, facts that distract from the main conclusion, add in verbal shortcuts to get an emotional sense felt at the time yet not connected to if you weren’t there. As a friend of mine once said “It’s a great story Ruth. It’s just the way you tell it, I don’t recognise it as that night we were out”.
Presentation is not a bad thing, unless it leads to ‘story selling’* rather than direct story telling. Seductive as this is from a marketing perspective, as stories have the power to communicate complicated context possible as a simple message, something our brains want to absorb; it will be counter productive in the long term in a workplace culture as it loses one of the reason’s we can find stories engaging, the real connection to other people’s experiences.
So I’m going to try and pay more attention to the message, and less to the polished flow of words. I’m going to try and keep my stories human even if that’s messy.
* Stefani Romenti et al, 2013. “Make it personal.”, Communication World, Jan 1 2013