5 Ways That Storytelling Can Improve Workplace Communication

Matthew Turner

Stories are one of the main ingredients to good communication, and this applies today in the workplace. Our ability to communicate in the workplace has increased dramatically in recent years. From the phone, through email, and then video conferences, group chats and private Slack channels, workplace communication is more accessible than ever.

Whether your team resides in the same office or across continents, workplace communication is possible 24/7. Yet this great potential creates even greater pressure to effectively do so. Because as powerful as workplace communication is, it can quickly become a detriment to productivity, efficiency and morale.

How Storytelling Can Be Used To Improve Workplace Communication

We’ve all been part of a meeting that ran over time, or an email chain that never seemed to end. Workplace communication is vital to keep your team on the same page, yet without the right controls, it soon spirals out of your control. 

Storytelling is one of the pillars of society. We can learn a lot in today’s workplace, simply by using the power of story to communicate with our teams. 

Here are 5 reasons why storytelling is an effective way to improve workplace communication:

1. Storytelling Creates Connections and Trust

Storytelling has a literal effect on your brain, and one that develops connections and helps build trust.

  • When you tell a story, it activates a function in your brain called Neural Coupling. This enables the person you’re speaking to relate what you’re saying to their own life, thus making communication more personal and relatable.
  • Storytelling also creates a mirroring pattern in your brain, allowing the person you speak to, to experience similar brain activity as yourself.
  • When you share a story, it stirs certain emotions within the listener, which in turn releases dopamine. This stimulates memory, making what you share more ‘sticky’ and memorable, for longer periods of time.
  • As you listen to a story, you experience an oxytocin release. This creates an element of safety and trust, and better connects the listener to the storyteller.

When it comes to workplace communication, all this leads to greater trust and connection. The use of stories literally brings what you communicate alive. It gives it a sense of purpose and meaning. Instead of dividing your team and having them ‘switch off’, it brings them closer together and on to the same page.

2. Storytelling Creates Unity and Common Ground

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari describes the role storytelling played in the human race’s rise to domination. Our ability, as a species, to communicate with one another, allowed us to spread information more freely. We could teach other people how to hunt, and which areas offered the best berries and nuts. In time, we could share this information further, and to more and more people.

Yet it had a limit. This was fine for small villages, but what about when we wanted to bring villages together to create towns, cities and societies? This is when storytelling came into play. By creating stories about Gods, Deities and ‘how to live a moral life’, we could spread information further. Large groups of people became united by these stories, and soon after, societies formed.

As mentioned above, storytelling evokes meaning and are easier to memorize than simple facts and figures. This makes stories far easier to spread, which in turn creates unity and common ground amongst those involved. The same applies in today’s workplace. 

Through stories, you can easily spread information throughout your team, and from department to department. Your workforce becomes united through a single story and setting, making it possible to get everyone on the same page, and working toward a common goal. No matter what their role, where their office is and who they directly work with.

3. Storytelling Evokes Emotion

Emotions play a large role in decision making. Each day, you’re faced with dozens, and sometimes hundreds of decisions. The same applies to your team. Many of these decisions happen behind the scenes, on auto-pilot. You make them without consciously doing so.

This means if you want your team to make certain decisions, it’s important you stir their emotions. Storytelling achieve this, and when used in workplace communication, can bring people together. With the right story, you can evoke pride, joy and happiness amongst your team.

You can engage them and bring them together with positive emotions. When it comes to building a strong company culture, this is key. One way or another, your team will feel something, and their emotions will drive their decision making. Through storytelling, you increase the likelihood that they’re driven by positive emotions, and ones that are to the benefit of the rest of the team and business.

4. Storytelling Cuts Through The White Noise

We live in a world of white noise, with far too many messages shared at any one time. Through email, social media, advertisements and more, your team gets bombarded with information every single minute of every single day.

Your workplace communication forms part of this. It may be important, and indeed vital to your business. But to your team, it’s just another message they face and must filter. If all you do is talk ‘at’ your team and fill their head with facts and figures, you may get lost in the white noise.

Storytelling helps you cut through this. It evokes emotions. It creates empathy and community. The message you share becomes personal and relatable, and captures their attention. It becomes more memorable. It is, quite simply, more interesting than the majority of other information they filter through.

Your job as a leader isn’t just to share information with your team, but to ensure it stands out and is remembered. Storytelling helps you achieve this, and is sure to ensure you cut through the white noise.

5. Storytelling Encourages Mentorship

The release of dopamine makes stories more memorable. And as Cognitive science research tells us (as suggested by Dorothy A. Leonard in her paper, ‘Using Mentoring and Storytelling to Transfer Knowledge in the Workplace’), memorable information is more likely to be acted upon.

This in turn breeds teaching and mentorship in the workplace. As you share story-driven information with your peers, they’re more likely to share this with theirs. It’s easy to recall, and thus easier to implement and share. It encourages your team to mentor one another, and pass information on.

Whereas if all you share is data-driven info, and those you share it with don’t remember it, then how can they possibly pass it on to others? They can’t. So, although storytelling makes it both easier for you to share and easier for those listening, it increases the likelihood of dissemination.

Through storytelling, your workplace communication become exponential. You may start it, but you are not the only person who has to carry it on. Again, this helps build a strong company culture, because people feel more responsible, involved and engaged with it. It’s not just about you or them, it becomes about ‘us’.

Workplace Communication and Storytelling

We are where we are today as a species, largely because of our ability to tell stories. Storytelling hasn’t only helped us spread information further, but in a way that evokes emotion, creates common ground and is more memorable. A great story can begin with one person, but is soon passed on to many more.

This is how religions started and grew, and in today’s workplace it’s how strong company cultures can form. The fact you have information to share with your team is clear. Each day you must pass it on, and you have a conscious decision on how you will. 

By using stories, you increase the chances of what you share being remembered and acted upon. As a leader, how valuable is this to you? What impact could this have on your entire team?

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