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Communication Through Storytelling

How can communication through storytelling drive organisational success? In this article, discover the power of great storytelling.
A table with coffee and a book that reads,
© Ducere Global Business School


What makes speeches like Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of ending racial segregation or Winston Churchill’s call for courage in the face of war so motivational? Storytelling. Storytelling is a powerful and effective way a leader can articulate their vision and motivate others to use their native talents, creativity, and insights to make a shared vision a reality.

Watch: Communicate by Sharing Your Weaknesses with United Nations, Chief of Operations, Mr Andrew Macleod

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The Power of a Story

A story is crafted using three elements: plot, character, and moral. The story’s effect depends on the setting: who tells the story, who listens, where they are, why they are there, and when.

  • Plot – A story’s plot engages us, captures our interest, and makes us pay attention. Why do we care? According to Ganz (2010), dealing with the unexpected is part of our lives, such as a marriage break-up or losing your job. As human beings, we are capable of agency or making choices based on remembering the past and imagining the future. When we follow a routine or habit, we are not making choices. Only when guidelines are unclear or when our routines breakdown, do we really make choices and become the creators of our own lives, communities, and futures. It is at these moments we become agents of our own fate.
  • Character – Stories persuade through an empathetic identification with the protagonist. Have you ever listened to a story where you could not identify with a single character? It’s boring. Thus, we may identify with a protagonist if they are only vaguely like us or at other time, we identify with those who are very much like us.
  • Moral – The moral of a successful story is emotionally experienced understanding. Thus, stories can teach us how to manage our emotions, not repress them, so we can act with agency to face our challenges. Stories are told to make a point and evoke a response.

Storytelling is fundamentally relational. As we listen to a story, we evaluate it. If it is the storyteller’s story, we will hear it one way. If it is a story of a friend, colleague, or family member, we hear it another way. Storytelling is how we interact with each other about values, share our experiences, counsel each other, comfort each other, and inspire each other to action.

Stories can also have a powerful and inspiring effect on an organisation. Leaders use stories to motivate, inspire, reduce conflict, build trust, influence superiors, and establish a clear direction. Storytelling can also help leaders be more strategic and guide an organisation through difficult changes by using stories to change the way people think and offer comfort and hope.

The Organizational Story as Leadership

Organisational stories reflect detailed narratives that, in relation to leadership conceptions and practice, in effect prescribe, rather than simply describe, perceptions and actions. The term ‘discourse’ is used, to reveal the power of such storytelling, to influence mindsets and behaviours culturally. In this regard, organisations, in drawing on narratives which publicise their strategies, visions, etc, are attempting to create positive tales/legacies. Hence, the types of sense-making processes we are exposed to are not necessarily neutral.

This is readily apparent in the article by Khan et al (2021), which reveals how the media ‘socially constructs’ powerful images in relation to “who” can be represented as a leader. The research explores the implications of how the media portrays the ‘typical’ leader, in terms of the underlying gendered assumptions that continue, despite broader social changes in this area. In particular, the authors show how aspects of ‘so-called’ feminine modes of communication have become incorporated into the typical hyper-masculine set of images (softening the persona) rather than reframing them.

The important point of the research is to demonstrate the power of the media to influence our sensemaking processes, and associated behavioural expectations, through both the printed word and visual imagery.

© Ducere Global Business School
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