Let Us Tell You a Story
by Beckie Schretter and Gina Giannitelli
Carol, an employee with over 30 years of service, deeply loves her work and truly wants what is best for her organization. She believes in the mission and values of the organization and has deep connections with the patrons. The director, Bob, was hired several years ago to help increase profitability, but hasn’t been successful. When Bob presents a new revenue creation idea to board leadership, Carol publicly questions the mission and vision alignment of the idea. A few months later Carol is called into Bob’s office and is handed a letter explaining her
position is being eliminated due to financial pressures. She feels deeply betrayed, angry and concerned for the organization she loves. Bob avoids Carol in the days that follow. She grapples with whether she is the victim of retribution. She decides to write a letter to the board…
Are you wondering or even making up how this story ends?
At the ACMP conference, storytelling was a theme throughout several presentations. Research
shows you use more of your brain when listening to a story, far more than when you listen to a
slide presentation or read a written communication. As Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. describes “…
because you are having a richer brain event, you enjoy the experience more, understand the information more deeply, and retain it longer.” How can we use stories in change?
Use them to create the case for change, connecting the head and the heart. Stories provide a refreshing break from data filled presentations or memos. Research by Paul Zak shows stories create a tension that sustains attention, which leads to shared emotions. Shared emotions lead to mimicked feelings and an increased trust and willingness to take action.
Recognize and challenge stakeholder stories throughout the process. Researcher Brene Brown reminds us stakeholders create stories that drive behavior. She observed “the brain needs to know the story” and fills in needed details. Resilience is enhanced when people challenge the
truth of their own storytelling.
Storytelling inspires change and helps people move up the commitment curve. When preparing the case for change or drafting a stakeholder communication, consider what story could illustrate the point and grab attention. When leaders are reluctant to share information, remind them people will fill in the blanks with their own stories. When confronted with counterproductive behavior, ask questions and challenge the story driving that behavior. What is the story behind your change?