How Storytelling Makes Us Human
When you meet a friend for a walk or go out for dinner, I bet you do a lot of storytelling. There’s always that friend who tells hilarious stories that make you laugh. Or that friend who tends to be upset about something, ranting away. Storytelling is an integral part of how we communicate and is what makes us human.
But for some reason, when go to the office or put on our work hat, we tend to push storytelling to the side. We stick with the facts and figures as many people are uncomfortable bringing emotions or personality into the workplace.
This is a big mistake.
Throughout human history, storytelling has been at the foundation of our visual, written and verbal communications. It’s how we pass knowledge from generation to generation, or break complex ideas into something manageable and relatable.
Our brains are hardwired for stories.
When we hear stories that make us angry or frustrated, our body releases cortisol, which helps us pay attention and retain information. The stories that tug at our heart strings, cue our body to release oxytocin. This triggers trust, empathy and generosity.
As a professional storyteller, I know storytelling is key to not only making a personal connection, but also ensuring people remember what you’re saying.
I’m sure you’ve had to sit through a boring presentation where someone read verbatim from Power Point slides that contained lots of graphs. When the presentation was over, you likely let out a sigh of relief. Hours or days later, you probably recalled very little of what you’d heard – usually only the points that directly impacted you.
Now think of a presentation where the person used storytelling. Maybe they told a humorous story that made you laugh and relate to a situation. Or they told a story that made you angry or sad, thinking someone needs to do something about that.
Looking back on that experience, I bet you can retell the story. Sure, you may not remember all the details, but you remember enough to have the essence of what the person was saying.
This is because the hormones your body was releasing when you heard the story ensured you retained 2 to 10 times more information than hearing just the facts.
Lean in to emotions
Another key piece of storytelling is emotions. I wager you can’t think of one story that doesn’t contain emotions – anger, sadness, humour, frustration. The list goes on.
However, showing and conveying emotions tends to be frowned upon and avoided in most traditional workplace cultures. By avoiding versus leaning into emotions, we’re limiting not only our personal connection, but also the ability for people to remember what you’re saying.
Going back to that friend who tells stories that have you laughing or pounding your fist in anger. How did they use emotions? Did they name the emotion – when this happened, I was so angry because it was clear the person didn’t think about how it impacted me. Or did they convey emotion through their expressions, body language and tone of voice?
Don’t be afraid of emotions. They’re an essential element of storytelling.
I encourage you to think of how you can use stories in the workplace.
In a staff meeting, is there a way to bring a health and safety policy to life by sharing a story of how the precautions helped prevent a near miss? Sharing the experience so people see how it impacts their lives versus reminding people to read the health and safety manual.
Think about the stories you can share in the work you do.
And if you’re struggling to figure out how to tell impactful stories, check out my How to Harness the Power of Storytelling training video and e-book.
Storytelling is what makes us human and ensures people connect with what you’re saying. Who doesn’t want stronger connections?