We all grow up with stories. Stories of our family, stories from our friends and stories we read. There are stories we hear at school, at work, on television and in the movies. Stories are everywhere!
And while you’ve been around stories your whole life, you also likely realize that stories have been around forever. Stories have been used by cultures since before written language to pass down oral history and teach valuable lessons.
Given all of this you may recognize the power of stories, but have you thought about how to harness or how to use that power purposefully in your communications as a leader?
Here are five reasons why stories are such a powerful communication tool with the critical linkage for you as a leader – how to think about using stories more effectively to reach your communication goals.
But first here’s an important side note:
If you are thinking “This isn’t for me, I’m not a storyteller,” forget it!
There absolutely are techniques to you become a more effective storyteller (that’s another article), but everyone tells stories (regardless of your job title) and choosing to tell more stories more often will help further your communication goals. How can I be so sure?
- Because we have all told stories our whole lives
- Because stories are so naturally powerful that when they are selected appropriately they will always help. (The proof comes in the rest of the article, so keep reading).
Why Stories are a Powerful Communication Tool
Stories make a point.
This is quite possibly the simplest and most direct reason why stories are so powerful. Properly selected and told stories can make a point in ways other forms of communication cannot. Stories allow the listener to learn vicariously and discover lessons seemingly on their own. As a leader select your stories carefully and match them to your intended message. Don’t tell stories just “because they are powerful” but because they help you make an important point.
Stories make it memorable.
Well all remember stories, right? In fact, I guarantee you have stories in your mind that have been their most all of your life. While the mechanics of how stories are memorable is beyond the scope of this article, all that really matters right now is that stories can – and do – help people remember things very effectively. As a leader one of your goals with any communication should be to make it memorable. Using well selected, well timed and oft repeated (even though they are memorable) stories will help people remember your message.
Stories make it meaningful.
When we hear a story we have a greater context and understanding of a situation. Stories can personalize a message and make us feel a part of the situation. Use stories to create meaning for people. However, remember, not everyone will have exactly the same meaning. That’s OK, as long as you are telling your stories purposefully and making your main message clear. The meaning each person creates helps them remember and personalize the story.
Stories create and reveal emotions.
Have you ever cried or laughed at a movie, the TV or when reading a book? There is no doubt that stories can create or reveal your emotions. Stories tap into part of what makes us all human. As a leader remember tapping into people’s emotions will help to influence or persuade them.
Stories build connections.
Think about a social situation where you met some new people. It is quite likely the people you feel the greatest bond or attraction to (not necessarily physical, though perhaps) are those who shared a story with you. All stories can create a bond between the teller and the receiver; however, the strongest connections will be forged by personal, first person stories. As a leader, remember your most powerful stories will be things you share about your life experience – especially a time when you failed or made a mistake. Not only can those stories make your intended point, but they also can build a stronger connection or relationship between you and those you are telling the story to.
This brief article only scratches the surface of the power of stories and how you can use them as a leader. For even more resources on using stories in your leadership, particularly in change management, check out our Remarkable Learning training, Storytelling and Change Management here.
Once upon a time there was a student who “got stories.” She became known as the Story Seeker. Her desire to learn was unsurpassed. At each storytelling opportunity, she took from her backpack, a bright, fresh set of eyes and an inquisitive mind. She listened for the storyteller’s point. At times relevance rolled over her like a freight train and she connected. Other times it didn’t. After all, she hadn’t traveled far down the road of life. So she made notes. If she detected empathy and decent humanness within the storyteller, she committed a lifeline to her. Relevance might come one day, but only if they remain connected.
The storyteller who cares, plants the seeds from which future storytellers can grow. How special the moment, when one inspires another to tell a story.
Dave – this is one of the times when the comment is better than the post. Thanks for sharing.
Stories are good to communicate and illustrate messages. For instance,
I wanted to convey a message in a Republicans ‘meeting I was participating about the balance between mercy, justice and responsibilities in regard to the illegals and border‘s security issues so I used one story as follow: There was a wealthy landlord who built a mansion in a poor neighborhood. One day the landlord took a long trip to take care of other businesses and left the doors and windows opened of his mansion. Those living in that neighborhood heard about all the “goodies” and comfortable life living there so they entered into the mansion…everybody found a niche there: the homeless, the criminal, the terrorist, the poor and so forth. When the Landlord returned he asked to all them to leave his house but they didn’t, instead, they went to live in the shadows of the basement. The Landlord was very upset and took them to the judge. The judge told to those living in that house: “you broke the law; you need to leave that house and pay a penalty. You are at the mercy of the Landlord” And to the Landlord the judge said: “You bear responsibilities for not taking care in securing your home. Treat them with justice and mercy”. So the Landlord decided to get rid of the criminals and terrorists and send them away and offered the opportunity to the poor and homeless to work for him and to build shelters for them in the back yard. He also made the decision to secure his home at all time. When I told that story all of them were amazed. I remember that Jesus used a lot stories to make His points.
Great post, Kevin! Stories are a fantastic way to get points across clearly and memorably. Even when dealing with customers, the use of creative communication tools can go a long way. As this piece (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-education/positive-proactive-communication) suggests, positive communication can make a huge difference in loyalty.
Stories aren’t a “communication tool.” Stories just are… we use communication tools to tell them.
Stories are powerful, no doubt… perhaps more powerful than any other element of our history as told. How they are told makes lots of difference. When we tell stories that are personal, true, emotional and purposeful, they take on meaning that moves people. Whether these stories are told though words, pictures, writing, sculpture, photographs, paintings whatever… the tool only represents the story. It’s there regardless whether someone chooses to tell it or not.
Perhaps most importantly, we must also always remember that people receive stories on their own terms, from their own perspective. How people will react to stories is intangible to the teller. If a story is a “tool,” it has to have a purpose (and they all do) but the intent of the teller is not alwasy reflected in the reaction of the receiver… stories as “tools” in this context become much more complicated. Consider stories that “move” people toward actions or reactions that the teller would never have intended… in these cased the “tool” did not perform the function it was intended for.
Hammers hit nails, but they also bend them.
Stories as tools? How about stories as just stories with the vessels we choose to tell them as tools to shape and form them? How people relate to the way we shape and form stories is entirely up to them.
Growing up we are all told stories of how our parents grew up. What it took to get them where they are today, what they learned. As we grow we learn that some of the lessons from the stories of old help us guide us, and in some ways even shape us to become the people we are.
As we pass on those same stories to those who are important to us, we are sharing those same stories to teach, to guide, and showcase the reasons why. There are times when sharing a bit of ourselves makes a difference in how another sees the world. You can’t become a true leader if you are not sharing what you have done in the past that got you were you are today.
Humans have been sharing stores since the dawn of time, I do not think that is going to be changing anytime soon.
Great post Kevin it gets you thinking..
Thanks for your comments and kind words Kim.