We all tell stories at work.
How many times have you described something to a colleague—maybe the events of a meeting or an assignment from your manager? You incorporated facts, data, context, actions, and results into a narrative that accurately conveyed everything your colleague needed to know. In short, you told a story.
Storytelling is one of the most useful forms of communication in the workplace. Stories motivate people and get them engaged with business goals, because they effectively combine reason and emotion. They can help people accomplish tasks, because they are easier to understand and remember than a list of steps or facts. Embracing storytelling at work will help you to become a better co-worker and leader.
What Is Storytelling?
Storytelling is the ability to describe facts linked in sequence using a logical organization and structure capable of conveying a certain meaning. Stories rely on a narrative—a deliberate arrangement of events that allows the teller to articulate information in a certain context to support a desired outcome.
Sound complicated? Let me use a metaphor, a common techinque when constructing a narrative.
If a riverside were the narrative structure of a story, the water in that river would represent the unfolding of the story, with its main elements: characters and challenges. Where the river meets the sea could represent the outcome of the story. The emotions characters experience are comparable to the force of the running water, its temperature, and even the life forms that inhabit it. The better the story is told, the more we feel as if we’re “in” this river, perceiving the current, water temperature, and so on. That is, if the story gets us involved, we will remember the experience and "learn" how to dive in the next time we are at the riverside.
Using Stories at Work
It’s this power to engage that makes storytelling essential at work. For example, have you ever given a list of tasks to a colleague, only to find at the end that he had failed to do the job properly? A story might have helped in this case. Instead of providing an isolated set of steps, weave them into a narrative that explains the larger goal of the tasks. That will help your colleague feel more invested in the task, which will hopefully lead to better performance.
Another function that benefits from storytelling is marketing and product and service development. Marketers know that people don’t want dry lists of features and specs. They want to be told the story of how a product or service will improve their lives. Similarly, organizations use their history, mission, and vision—their past, present, and future—to build their brand, or company story.
To improve your storytelling skills, be sure to attend my session at the ATD 2016 International Conference & Exposition. To get the most out of the session, try to think about these questions before you arrive:
- What is your motivation to learn about storytelling?
- How can you improve your storytelling skills to engage people at work?
- Do you remember a real story from work that allowed you to connect reason and emotion?
- Have you ever experienced a situation in which you gave a list of tasks to a colleague, only to find at the end that he had failed to do the job properly?
- In your opinion, how can we use an effective form of storytelling in the corporate world?