One evening a Cherokee grandfather told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins??” The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I love a good story! One that engages you, makes you think, and inspires you. We are all storytellers. Human beings have been telling stories for a long as we have had language. We interpret and narrate the events in our lives. Sometimes we tell a good story that really resonates with our listeners, sometimes we don’t. What is the benefit of learning to tell a great story?
Those who tell stories rule the world ~Plato
Stories are memorable: I once had someone share a particularly gross story about his previous job, and whilst I desperately wished I had never heard this story, much to my dismay, I can still remember the story years later. We use stories to influence, inspire, educate, reflect, and learn. Stories are memorable, they stick in our minds longer than other information. Hopefully the memory is a good one!
We engage others through our story: One of the reasons stories sticks in our minds more is because it engages our emotions. We recognise or compare ourselves to the story, and as a result we either love the characters in the story or hate them. Stories shape our thinking. We gain new perspectives when we engage with many other stories . (As a child of Africa, I love this: The danger of a single story)
Stories connect people to purpose: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that increases focuses, motivation and memory in your listeners. When you share a story or even a journey i.e. why you have decided on a particular strategy, you can engage in a way that increases the dopamine levels in your listeners. By taking listeners through a journey of where it started, the why of it, and connecting it to the purpose, you can create meaning and a stickiness to the story.
The humanness of the story: Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that builds cohesion in relationships. It increases trusts, and and creates a bond. There are many ways to increase oxytocin or, increase trust and cohesion. One of my favourite ways is by being vulnerable. (I love Brene Brown’s talk on The Power of Vulnerability) Sharing something of your own personal journey or a character in your story can increase empathy in the listener. Facts can share a lot of information, vulnerable stories create meaning and brings in a human component, which is the foundation of connection. It touches us in a way that facts never can.
Laughter and fun. Endorphins helps people to relax more, to become more focused, and be more creative. We all know exercise helps to to increase endorphins, but you can’t exactly use that it storytelling! 😉 Laughter can also increase endorphins, so how can you bring humour in your storytelling? Nobody wants to listen to a boring, serious story all the time. How can you lighten it up, and bring in a fun side to your story. It’s no secret that children learn best through play, so can the rest of us.
Know your audience: When sharing a story, it is important as a leader to know your audience. What will engage them, what are some of the areas that are important for them. Learn how to read your audience and their body language, do they look bored, distracted, or engaged. How can you tailor your story for that audience.
Know yourself: As I wrote in my last article, it’s important to know yourself. If you are not an eloquent speaker, this is an area to develop. Know your limitations, if you are speaking in a monotonous voice, even the most engaging story can be extremely tiresome. Are you speaking in a condescending manner? Then you are losing your audience. Is your story too long? Did you get lost in the details? The best way to improve is to ask for feedback.
How you share your experiences, insight and leadership journey can be an important skill in increasing your ability to mentor, influence, and inspire others.
I hope you enjoyed this. I will be sharing more of storytelling in the future.
What stories do you have that have work well for you and why?
How can you use storytelling to engage your team?
- Harvard Business Review. Why your brain loves good storytelling: HBR: https://hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling
- Beyond Basics: 5 neuroscience lessons for leaders. https://gethppy.com/leadership/5-neuroscience-lessons-leaders
- Hook me up to a dopamine drip: The Neuroscience of leadership. https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/leadership/hook-dopamine-drip-neuroscience-leadership/
- The magical science of storytelling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-hdQMa3uA
- The danger of a single story: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en
As an Organisational Psychologist, and Executive Coach, I have worked with leaders internationally to build resilience and create strategies to become more effective. I have developed an online platform to connect and grow leaders. You will find mentorship stories from senior leaders, learn how to become more resilient, have access to bite size leadership lessons, and engage with a coach. Please connect if you would like to learn more.
Coaching can be defined as a partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that supports them to identify and take steps that move them between their current reality to where he or she wants to be. The biggest impact of coaching occurs when there is a shift in a person’s thinking, (or aha moments). Shifts in how we perceive the world occur because what we experience changes through the questions that are asked.