Story-telling as a communication tool


Once upon a time…no…sorry, wrong story (heh).

I love to listen to music. I can listen for hours to different artists, but the ones I go back to repeatedly are the ones who tell me a story with their lyrics. Steve Earle and Rufus Wainwright are currently at the top of my iPod’s most frequently played list. Sometimes I’ll realize there’s actually a different meaning to a song then what I had first thought, just by listening a little closer.

I recently attended a workshop sponsored by CASLIS, on story-telling as a communication tool, given by Gail DeVos. She described using stories not to entertain, but to help organizations overcome obstacles to change, and to tap into institutional knowledge. She spoke of one organization which used its corporate library to organize monthly story telling workshops. Each month, one member of the firm would tell a story. There were specific criteria, like it had to be about the organization, but it could take place in the past, the present or the future. This firm regularly had attendance of over 50 people at each “story time”. I can see how this can be effective in developing loyalty to the employer, as well as more engagement by the employees in a time of flux.

One thing Gail emphasized was the role of listening in story-telling. It is vital to pay close attention to the story-teller in order to fully understand the story. I often meet with members of my firm, and I can see they’ve stopped listening to me after I’ve completed about half of my thought. They try to solve my problem without actually understanding what the problem is, because they haven’t listened to the end of my sentence. Perhaps if I had a more entertaining story, I could get their full attention.

In our group, one person mentioned the difficulty she was having as a new supervisor, dealing with staff who were stuck in the “old way” of doing things and constantly referring to the “good old days”. Gail suggested that the supervisor could help them write a “new story” about how things were different, and what technology had freed them to be able to do.

I had hoped for a bit more direction in this workshop, like actual steps to creating stories that could be used in a professional setting. I soon realized I’d already been using stories, just perhaps not as effectively as I could have been. (I tend to go off on a tangent…but I digress…) We all have stories to tell, the point is that a story grabs our attention and helps us to understand and remember what the teller is teaching us. In fact, the best stories leave us wanting more.

I have some new staff orientation to prepare for in the next few weeks, and I think I’ll see what stories I can create for them to welcome them to the firm. And then I’ll test them and see if they were actually listening!



One Response to “Story-telling as a communication tool”

  1. 1 Kerry Macdonald

    I agree with Karen’s critique of the workshop. I also attended this workshop and I too had hoped for more of a “how to” approach. However, as an introduction to using storytelling, I thought the session was great for sparking thoughts and getting the wheels turning. There are a handful of interesting books at the Winnipeg Public Library that look as though they might offer some guidance about how to use storytelling and how to perfect your storytelling skills. Some titles include:

    The leader’s guide to storytelling : mastering the art and discipline of business narrative / Stephen Denning. Call number: 658.45 DEN 2005

    The strategic use of stories in organizational communication and learning / Terrence L. Gargiulo. Call number: 658.3 GAR 2005

    Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact / Annette Simmons. Call number: On Order

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