ATD Blog

Using Storytelling in a Multicultural Workplace


Stories create a communication bridge that connects the left and right sides of the brain by touching on rational elements, as well as a person’s emotional aims and objectives. Storytelling in the corporate environment is generally used in marketing and product development. This technique can also be used in other areas to improve results. One of the best places to use storytelling is cross-cultural communication.

Storytelling is a powerful way to engage a multicultural team because stories can reinforce your business priorities and values. Humans are connected and engaged by stories; they give meaning to our messages and create emotional connections between people.

For example, imagine you are a leader who wants to communicate the difference between theory and practice in a weekly meeting with your employees. Instead of asking real examples on company’s policy, you decide to engage everyone with a story:

A little field mouse was lost in a dense wood, unable to find his way out. He came upon a wise, old owl sitting in a tree.

"Please help me, wise, old owl. How can I get out of this wood?" said the field mouse.

"Easy," said the owl. "Grow wings and fly out, as I do."

"But how can I grow wings?" asked the mouse.


The owl looked at him haughtily, sniffed disdainfully, and said, "Don't bother me with the details, I only decide the policy."

Although storytelling is a natural competence for many people, not everybody is able to tell effective stories that engage their colleagues, team, or customers. Scientists have shown that intuition is very important for creating, telling, and understanding stories. Once we can understand the main elements of a narrative, we intuitively make connections with our day-to-day experiences, imagining the scenes, emotions, and characters.

Let me share my definition of storytelling:

Storytelling is the art of telling a story that will engage listeners, by providing a link between facts and emotions. The storyline must make sense during the beginning, middle, and end, with actions made by a memorable character. That character must achieve a goal through a sequence of events that engages the listeners and creates emotional experiences for them, so that they can experience the story again and again to feel the same emotions as the first time the story was told.

Stories are a powerful communication tool in a multicultural workplace, because they enable listeners to make connections between what is said and their own experiences, facilitating understanding of important meanings, beliefs, and behaviors from different cultures. The use of storytelling principles when designing and delivering programs in different countries to a diverse audience brings consistent benefits; this helps create meaning and can trigger people to act.


A person’s experiences make for excellent stories. They are easier to tell and remember, because they’re rooted in reality, and therefore, are more relatable. One of the most important reasons for crafting a good story from a past experience is to make conclusions to improve the impact of the events you will be organizing in the future.

For example, let me leave you with a true story that just about anyone in this industry can relate to. I like to call it, "I've Always Done It That Way." As training professionals, I’m sure you’ll be able to glean its moral.

A quality management consultant visited a small and somewhat antiquated manufacturing company to advise on improving general operating efficiency as part of his project implementation. The advisor was reviewing a particular daily report that dealt with aspects of productivity, absentee rates, machine failure, down time, and so on. The report was completed manually onto a photocopied proforma that was several generations away from the original master copy, so its headings and descriptions were quite difficult to understand. The photocopied forms were particularly fuzzy at the top right corner, where a small box had a heading that was not clear at all. The advisor was interested to note that the figure “0” had been written in every daily report for the past year. On questioning the members of staff who completed the report, they told him that they always put a zero in that box, and when he asked them why they looked at each other blankly. 

"Hmm, I'm not sure about that," they each said. "I guess we've just always done it that way." 

Intrigued, the consultant visited the archives to see if he could find a clearer form, to discover what was originally being reported and whether it actually held any significance. When he found the old reports, he saw that the zero return had continued uninterrupted for as far back as the records extended— at least the past thirty years—but none of the forms were any clearer than those presently in use.

A little frustrated, he packed away the old papers and turned to leave the room, but something caught his eye. In another box, he noticed a folder, promisingly titled “Master Forms.” Sure enough inside it he found the original daily report proforma master-copy, in pristine condition. In the top right corner was the mysterious box, with the heading clearly shown… “Number of Air Raids Today."
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