Storytelling has a long and noble history. For centuries we told stories to convey information about culture, religion, heroes, mores, and just how people lived. Many of these stories became legends. Many of these stories become lessons that guided behavior. Anyone remember Aesop? What happened? Why don’t we tell stories anymore?
We got civilized
What happened was we created the written word and the oral tradition diminished. We went to writing and reading stories instead of speaking and listening. Then we established policies and procedures and even our writing got uninteresting or more correctly BORING. We used to excite people by gathering around the fire or sitting in a circle and telling a story to educate and inform.
When was the last time you gave an employee handbook to someone and asked them to read it and sign the document that attested to their understanding it? Perhaps more understanding might be conveyed if you created stories that exemplified the important principles you are trying to teach. My friend Matt Monge has a post called 7 Reasons Leaders Should be Great Storytellers. In it he said stories are important because “They make us think. They make us feel. They make us care.” He also said “stories can be infinitely more effective in actually communicating ideas than a policy manual. (And no, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have policy manuals. But I am saying you might want to rethink what you’re expecting them to accomplish.)” And I agree with him.
“stories can be infinitely more effective in actually communicating ideas than a policy manual” – Matt Monge
In the classes I teach I tell “war stories” about HR and I always get high ratings because these stories help make the words on the pages of the books much more real. It gives them context. That is important when you are leading employees, especially new employees.
Another reason to tell stories
There is another reason to tell stories beyond its effectiveness in conveying information. That is job security! Stories use emotion to convey messages. Robots, by which many of us might be replaced in the future, cannot be emotional. Emotion is a HUGE part of communication. It cements what we hear or read. Dr. Frank Luntz, author of Words that Work, says “80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect”. Emotion is human.
Emotion is a HUGE part of communication
Preserving the “human” in your job is important if you want to stay employed. As Monge said “Great leaders understand that stories are part of a humanized culture.”
So if you want to have that job in Human Resources in 5 or 10 years learn how to tell stories that get across the company culture and the company rules. Your employees will be better for it as will you.