We are all storytellers.
When we think of stories, we think of the recreational kind. I spent much of my childhood with a book in my hand, and many evenings reading the latest Judy Blume book with a flashlight under the covers. The Ramona Cleary books were my favorite!
Did you ever notice that we tell stories at work too?
"Did you hear about what happened at the company meeting?"
"Did you hear Janet and Amy arguing this morning?"
Sometimes our stories are factual, and sometimes they are speculative.
"Bob is avoiding me. I bet he's thinking about eliminating my position."
Why Stories Matter
Stories are entertaining, but the main reason we tell them is to connect to others and to transmit important knowledge. When we tell stories about other people, we are encouraging the listener to see the world in the same way we do.
The important thing to remember is that our stories have power.
Here is an example. I once worked with a team of people who reported to a "notorious CEO." Over the course of a year, I heard many stories about how this CEO was abrupt, cruel, disrespectful, and unreasonable. These stories built up an image of him, even though we had never met. When we did finally meet, it was difficult for me to form my own impression, because the stories had built up such a negative image. I no longer remember the specifics of all the stories I was told, but I do remember the impact.
Yup, stories have power.
Here are some of the stories that I love to see managers sharing:
- Stories about successes.
- Stories about people who are living up to company values.
- Stories about mistakes, and what was learned from them.
- Stories about why the company matters, and the difference that is being made.
Here are some of the stories I wish managers were more careful with:
- Stories about who is to blame.
- Stories that highlight the weaknesses of others.
- Stories that inspire hopelessness.
- Stories to show that management can't be trusted.
I suppose the point isn't to tell you to sanitize your words. But I would like to point out that when we share a story, we are really asking someone to believe in something. If our messages cut our company down instead of building it up, our stories can cause harm.
Does that make sense?
Cheri Baker is a Seattle area OD Consultant who uses positive storytelling as a method of improving organizations.