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Posted by on Mar 27, 2012

From Bedtime Stories to Workplace Stories: 3 Tips to Harness the Power of Storytelling

The little boy fidgeted in his bed. Surrounded by his stuffed animals and his achievement trophies, he eagerly anticipated the brightest spot in his day. In fact, it was the brightest spot in almost all of his days, though he probably didn’t realize it at the time. It was the moment when his grown up majestically entered his room, book in hand, and sat beside him, snuggled in among his stuffed animal friends, and began the adventure.

The adventure took them on different places every night. From tales of princes and princesses in faraway lands, to epic battles of good versus evil.  From action packed scenes of battle, to serene campfires in the Rocky Mountains.

And if he were able to hold his eye lids open, as they grew heavier and heavier, some how, some way, things almost always ended in a good place. The prince and princess were reunited at last; good, yet again, was able to conquer evil. The inevitable battle gave way to peace, and the fish were always biting at the mountain lakes.

For many of us, storytelling has been an integral part of our lives. Stories have given us hope when we had little; stories gave us strength when we were weak; and stories were able to send us off to dream with a sense that everything, eventually, would be all right.

Sometimes, our bedtime stories taught us life lessons (though we didn’t realize it). In many cases for me as a young child, I would keep fighting sleep because I couldn’t wait to get to the end. I had to know what was going to happen. I had to know things were going to be all right; of if things weren’t right, I needed to believe that life was fair-at least sometimes.

If you shared similar experiences, you probably didn’t realize that your grownups were really helping to train your brain. Our brains love to relate to others, and storytelling is one of the best ways for that to happen. But how do we tell good stories in the workplace? Stories that teach, motivate, empathize, or admonish?

As HR professionals, being able to tell good stories will frequently teach the people in the agency we support lessons, or provide them a way of processing information, that a “just the facts” approach will not.

We all have stories; it’s just how we choose to tell them, and the spirit in which we offer them, that will gauge their effectiveness. When telling a workplace story, here are three tips to keep in mind.

  1. Make sure your story reinforces the message you’re trying to convey. If a situation is confusing or doesn’t align with the situation, you’ll do nothing more than muddy the waters for your colleagues.
  2. Choose your words carefully. In the beginning of this blog, you were probably able to quickly generate a mental image as the story unfolded about our little boy waiting for a bedtime story. Making sure you choose words that are as exact and precise as possible will serve you well when telling your story. And, in telling a workplace story with a message, make sure you use your words, your language, and your style. One of the greatest things we can celebrate about ourselves is our differences.
  3. Practice. If you know you’ve got a difficult message to convey, it’s important to practice conveying that message. If you’re telling a story, keep it simple yet descriptive; keep it concise yet meaningful; and keep it tailored to your audience.

Understanding the power of storytelling in the workplace is yet another tool to use in your ability to communicate. And although we may not always end up with a “happily ever after,” we certainly can walk away feeling that we shared, we connected, and we, perhaps, realized that we’re all a bit more alike than we are different.

The End.

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