A story has no effect on you unless you hear it.
That means you have to listen carefully to the story, digest and analyze the information presented, ask some relevant questions, and draw some enlightened conclusions.
But did you know storytelling can also be used to resolve interpersonal challenges in the workplace?
A Supervisor’s Story
Here’s an excerpt from one supervisor’s story:
“I have an employee who is trying to undermine my authority behind my back but appears to be my number one supporter to my face!”
This is a very short excerpt that represents a very big problem. The important issues involved in this little story are trust and integrity. When problems of trust and integrity exist in your workplace, interpersonal communication is stifled and productivity is impeded.
Sound familiar? You can probably think of a situation in which one person wreaked interpersonal havoc in an office and no one knew how to stop it or wanted to risk getting involved. A situation like that can go unchecked for years and, lacking a viable approach or action from management, co-workers have to work around it as best they can.
Storytelling as a Tool for Learning and Problem Solving
You may recall analyzing stories in school, breaking works of literature down to their elemental parts and discovering the meanings of their symbols and metaphors. One of the great things about stories is that we can learn lessons from them that we never forget.
Storytelling has been used to preserve and pass down ancestral history through the generations and to teach lessons of life through various story devices such as parables, analogies, and case studies.
Storytelling can also be used as an authoritative marketing strategy to engage prospects and share information about operations, customers, successes, and even failures. Companies may use storytelling to demonstrate how they improved a process, upgraded a product, or resolved a complaint.
When prospects are considering whether or not to buy from you, they seek social truth in the form of stories: reviews and testimonials and maybe even scam reports! They ask around and search online because they want to hear stories from people who have actually purchased your product or used your service. They can then use those stories as frames of reference for decision making.
Storytelling and Workplace Transfer
A story must not only be heard to be effective, it also has to be relevant and serve a purpose for the listener. You read some stories purely for entertainment, but other stories inform and change your mind or change your behavior — whether at home or in the workplace. Here is an interesting video on the topic by Mind Valley Insights, The Four Elements of Storytelling.
If you’re facing a challenging problem at work, look upon it as a story and begin to analyze it. Who are the major characters involved and how do they relate to each other? Then define the actual conflict – and not just the symptoms of the problem. Determine the role each character plays in the problem. Get to the heart of the matter and develop some viable alternative approaches and strategies to resolve the issue.
Storytelling that transfers applicable results to the workplace provides unbeatable value. So often, organizations send staff members off to training in which they are fed platefuls of generic theory and entertained with stories that don’t apply to their work environment … and return to work pretty much the same as when they left.
The best and most cost-effective training shares, examines, and resolves the challenges of real and relevant stories with solutions that can be taken back to workplace, applied, and never forgotten.
What Would You Do?
So back to our supervisor’s story … Imagine that supervisor works for you and has come to your office and told you that story? Changing the outcome of just one person’s story in your office can alter the functionality of your entire department.
What would you do about that employee who pretends to support you but undermines you behind your back? Share your comments!
Calvin Swartz is President and Founder of Progressive Success Corporation, a management consultancy specializing in executive leadership coaching and training. Reach out to Cal at [email protected] or @AskCalS on Twitter.