When I coach leaders in how to become stronger communicators, I always ask them to share stories of who influenced them or greatly impacted their careers. We go around the room and each leader has a powerful anecdote to express with details of an important person and their behaviors and actions. It is fascinating to listen to these profound interactions and how grateful the leaders are for connecting with some of the people in their past work and personal lives. These encounters helped develop leadership skills and competencies in these individuals, which propelled them into a successful journey. Amazing! By sharing their stories, others are able to learn and grow and potentially integrate new behaviors into their own workplace situations. So why is storytelling so powerful? Is it possibly the most critical form of communication that we have overlooked?
I will argue that storytelling is an important communication skill for leaders because the learning we can grasp from a story can be easily incorporated into daily work lives. Additionally, by sharing stories that require us to interpret the information and apply the learning to our individual situations can be a very effective tool. Storytelling also says that a leader cares enough to share a past learning experience to help their team grow and forge ahead.
What makes for a successful storytelling communication?
- The story has to be presented in a clear and organized way. When leaders roll out their stories, they must make sure they choose appropriate and descriptive words that will help them make their point. The stories need to have a beginning, middle and end and not be too long or drawn out. I always encourage leaders to write out their story before presenting it to their team.
- The teachings of the story must be understandable. Choosing the right story to learn from can sometimes be tricky. Take time to find the most helpful past mistake or lesson that you want to incorporate into your story. Think of how you felt when the interaction originally occurred. Draw upon those memories and feelings.
- The presentation must be sincere and authentic. We know that our teams are aware when we are not being transparent or honest in what we are communicating. Insincerity can be easily spotted! If we want our stories to make an impression on others, we need to use non-verbal cues that support our words- volume, tone, speed, eye contact, body language, facial expressions and hand gestures. Remember that when our non-verbals are inconsistent with our words, the listener will not remember our words, but rather focus on our body language.
- Spend time sharing what the other person learned from the story. After communicating the story, ask what they found most important from your anecdote. Can they apply the lessons to their challenging situation? Did they find the story helpful for resolving their concerns or issues? Asking if they have had similar encounters and what they learned from them can also be insightful.
Become a storyteller to communicate lessons learned and to discover new ways to approach the most challenging obstacles in the workplace. It may be just the help we need to evolve into powerful communicators.