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Why Your Business Should Be Telling Stories


“Once upon a time….”

These words conjure images in our mind. We tell our children the story of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ to get over the message that if you lie, then eventually people won’t believe you when it is critical they do.

No matter what religion you follow, the holy books are filled with moral stories that attempt to shape your thinking and therefore your actions.

Never underestimate the power of a great story. However, in business we seem to underestimate its worth. Businesses tend to focus on processes and numbers, not stories and experiences. Over the years I have learnt the power of a story to get over messages and help an organization improve their Customer Experience. Many of my slides in a key note speech are just pictures to provide a visual element to the story I am telling. These stories provide a key message and challenge people’s status quo.

I read this interesting article about story telling which I thought was very true.

Stories are about collaboration and connection. They transcend generations, they engage us through emotions, and they connect us to others. Through stories we share passions, sadness, hardships and joys. We share meaning and purpose. Stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcoming our defences and our differences. Stories allow us to understand ourselves better and to find our commonality with others.

Stories are how we are wired. Stories take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioural responses.

Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. By engaging our imagination, we become participants in the narrative. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others. Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery and change.

When we hear a captivating story, whether it’s a particularly well-written novel or a horrifying and gripping news piece, the emotional attachments we generate can remain with us for a long period of time. In this same way, anecdotal evidence or support can make a huge difference within the walls of a corporation to help get over the need to improve your Customer Experience. I will always remember undertaking an assessment of an organization’s Customer Experience and reporting back to the senior exec, in story form, of our journey. It was amazing to see their reaction as the catalogue of failures unfolded before their eyes. We really managed to get over how the customer would feel and the impact on revenue and costs for them.

Too often, companies fall into a web of only talking about strategies, numbers and benchmarks rather than human interactions and the lives of their Customers and employees. Just like when we read a great book or a touching newspaper article, stories leave a mark on us that last far longer than any spread sheets and asset allocation reports will. Many executives underestimate the effects on their team members that stories can have on engagement, a mistake that can be critical.

Stories have a connective quality, linking individuals together through similar emotions, thoughts, moulding our minds and reinforcing experiences. Although it may not be an intuitive conclusion, this is especially true in business. Besides merely relaying information, a relevant and compelling story can bring employees together for a common goal.

Hearing stories about employees who behaved properly or employees who made similar mistakes when dealing with Customers and still succeeded at the company can make team members feel more comfortable to try new things and to strive for new heights. Understanding that employees in the history of a company have had opportunities to learn and grow through errors and triumphs can be a rewarding conclusion, especially for new workers.

The unifying quality of storytelling can be particularly useful in working with new employees. Remaining cognisant of the fact that team members new to an organisation do not understand the same details about clients, customer service, history and company objectives in the same way seasoned employees do is something for which management must strive.

Engaging new employees can often be a difficult skill to master, especially in a poor economy when instilling confidence and excitement is difficult. Sharing stories can be a way to cross this bridge. Part of the connective nature of stories is related to the ability to stimulate emotions. A tragic story makes us sad. A horrifying story frightens us. A touching story can make us feel content. Being able to effectively use the ability to trigger emotions in employees, whether positive or negative is a very valuable skill.

Using emotions to connect on a personal or professional level with a team member is a strong engagement technique. By sharing stories in which clients were moved by the company and or previous engagements a company had, new and old employees alike can be brought together by the emotions surrounding an anecdote.

Stories are a very primal element of human interaction. Sharing experiences and feelings with others has been among the primary methods of communication for hundreds of years. Folk stories and fairy tales have been passed down for generations to share morals and ideas with offspring and relatives. The same principle applies in business, although in perhaps less of an abstract application. Taking part in a traditional element of human history—the word history quite literally features the word “story,” after all—can be solidifying for an employee. Experiencing the history of a company, memorable client interactions and the trials of previous employees through anecdotes can bring people together in the same way storytelling has done for thousands of years.

One could successfully make the argument that every time we share an experience, hope, dream or mistake with another individual we are telling a story. Sharing facts and details about our lives and the lives of those around us is a key element of the human existence. When we hear stories, we use our imaginations to build images and further details in a way that seemingly places us in the story ourselves. Listening to anecdotes and narratives helps us empathise with others and their situations in a way not possible without understanding details about their lives.

Stories bring us together as people in a way that allows us to expose our true selves to others. While leaving oneself emotionally vulnerable can be scary, allowing others to learn from our lives and mistakes can be rewarding. This conceptual view of storytelling is especially useful in a workplace when learning how to interact with co-workers and clients.

Keeping all of the strengths and utilities of storytelling in mind, it is quite logical to use narrative to influence the way employees respond to one another, their clients, and management. Effective managers know how to use stories to bring employees in emotionally to the strategic framework of a company and influence positive behaviour through anecdotal emotions and influences. Improving client interactions, team spirit and personal motivation can all be achieved through connecting with an individual through a story. Humans learn through encouragement and example, something that can skilfully be done through storytelling by effective managers.

Whether at home or at the office, we are constantly hearing and sharing stories with one another. When we design new Customer Experience for clients we use stories to articulate to employees what the change is and what we want them to do. In order to effectively engage employees, learning the art of mixing personal with professional can be a hugely valuable motivation technique. By using emotional triggers together with guidance and the enforcement of good behaviour, managers can guide employees to improve performance and increase productivity. Storytelling is a part of our nature, no matter who we are or where we come from. This innately human strength should never be underestimated, both in business and in every other facet of life.

What stories do you use to get your message over?


Photo credit: dragon_fang / Shutterstock.com

Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

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