The Power of Storytelling

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Before humans wrote words, they told stories. Storytelling has been around for thousands of years from telling stories on the Savannah by the campfire to snuggling up on the sofa to a Netflix drama, from cave paintings to bedsides. People were telling stories since before the written word or language was recorded.

Storytelling is an integral part of our humanity; we are drawn to stories that emerge throughout our childhood; they exist in all cultures and are a permanent fixture in our everyday lives. Whether that is in the home, business, education or entertainment. Storytelling has the ability to teach, inspire and connect millions of people on a deeply human level.

Everyone has a story to tell.

Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London, carried out a study on Filipino hunter-gatherers, the Agata. Andrea and her team asked the Agata what traits they valued most in their peers. Storytellers were valued the most, and in some cases valued twice as much as being a good hunter. They were also found to be more desirable living companions and mates and received more generosity than other members of the Agata. Andrea and her team collected and translated many of the stories, most of the content was about cooperation, egalitarianism, and gender equality. They used stories to ensure an egalitarian society, using specific themes throughout the stories to reinforce what was important to them.

When you listen to a story, your senses and your emotions are engaged, this creates the feeling of empathy, it releases oxytocin in the brain, which is the feel-good chemical. The more oxytocin you release the more empathy and connection you feel, building trust and familiarity towards the storyteller.

We internalise stories better than we do facts, our brains are hard wired for interpersonal connections, rather than hard data.  Research shows that people are more likely to remember a story than a statistic. In a program at Stanford University, students were asked to give one-minute speeches that contained three statistics and one story. Only 5 percent of the listeners remembered a single statistic, while 63 percent remembered the stories.

Storytelling is a crucial leadership skill, it is accessible and relatable to anyone regardless of gender, generation and geography. Over anything else, people want to be seen and to be understood. If a story is relatable to someone in their own context, they will be able to identify closely with it. They will be able to connect and compare their own feelings and experiences and imagine how they would act in a similar circumstance. Stories can affirm a person’s own beliefs and perceptions and often they can feel challenged by them. Stories have the power to change a person’s current attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and behaviours.

Stories with emotional content, such as a lived experience result in better understanding and recall. When people are able to relate to you on a deeply human level, your credibility and authenticity increases. A compelling story can evolve into a narrative that inspires a shared sense of purpose and mission, making everyone look beyond themselves to work towards a common goal. You can’t tell people to be more creative, to be more motivated and engaged, the human brain doesn’t work like that. But if you spark their interest by weaving storytelling throughout your organisation; defining culture and unifying your people, it is a more effective way to promote creativity, interaction and transformation.

“I’m more interested in people than I am in how businesses work” Peter Drucker

Seeing your organisation as a whole living organism that needs to be tended, nurtured and encouraged to grow and where people are at the centre and everything is interconnected, will ensure the organisation is fully adaptable and change is emergent.