Storytelling is incredibly powerful – just be sure it’s used in the right way

Storytelling is important.  Inspiring stories motivate and move us – they engage our hearts, not just our minds. When change is required, storytelling can help to paint a picture of why the change is needed, and what benefits that change will bring.

However, we can misuse storytelling by creating a story in our heads which makes us right, and the other person wrong, and not only that……. sometimes we’ll repeat that story to ourselves or others so many times that it becomes ‘true’. I nearly did this not too long ago.

A colleague and I got along well face to face, but we didn’t always agree on decisions related to work projects which led to our written correspondence being a little terse at times. Our need to crossover on projects was, fortunately, not that often.

This changed when I moved into a new role which required us (and our teams) to work more closely together. In the first six weeks, I sent several different emails seeking information, and didn’t get any response. So, I made up a story about why he wasn’t replying to my emails (let’s call this Storyline 1).

Storyline 1:

I have never had a lot of influence with him, and he doesn’t value me enough to respond.

Recognising it was my story rather than the truth, I decided to challenge myself to create two more stories to explain his lack of response.

Storyline 2:

He is swamped with too many emails and didn’t have time to respond.

Storyline 3:
He is exposed by what I am asking, as he doesn’t have the information I am after. This embarrasses him, so he’s avoiding responding at all.

I then decided to schedule a meeting and just ask him. He was genuinely surprised and very apologetic about not responding. As per storyline 2, he had missed them due to work pressures and volume of incoming emails. We agreed a way to manage our communication, going forward, to improve future response rates.

The moral of the story

I was initially tempted to march up to his desk and demand an explanation, guns a-blazing – I suspect it would have done serious damage to our working relationship. As it was, my decision to suspend my judgement, and just ask, led to a better working relationship in the long run.

Stories aren’t always true. Being deliberate about considering a different story to explain a situation can be really useful!

Could there be a different story to explain something that has bothered you?