Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

In the last edoBuzz article we explained how leaders address the ‘Leadership Paradox’ by telling stories that connect with common humanity.

Here, we explore further why stories resonate so much with people:

1. They tap into our emotional side

Stories trigger emotion in us. They stir something inside that makes us feel something; elation, sadness, curiosity, fear…what we feel depends on the story.

We think we are very rational, thinking beings but we’re really more convinced by emotion. We will often make a decision based on emotion and then justify it with logic. In business it is often strategy, profit forecasts and market segmentation that is discussed. In politics it is economic policies, climate change etc. However, those things are generally not what people want to hear as a guide to the “real person”. In today’s world, giving people the logical argument will only appeal to the head and can often be disputed with fake news. It therefore isn’t enough, we need to tap into their heart or their more emotional side.

2. They instil action

Zig Ziglar, the motivational speaker, said “Logic makes people think, but it is emotion that makes people act”.

Take a look at major fund-raising initiatives and you’ll see that they don’t just convey the importance of their cause through the data – such as the number of people living in poverty or the percentage of the population who rely on food banks every week – they also share the stories of those affected. Hearing the story of how a family struggles to feed and clothe themselves is a more powerful way of encouraging people to act because people can more readily empathise with the difficulties they face.

3. They humanise us

Research professor, Brene Brown has spoken of stories being akin to “data with a soul”. Stories enable us to connect more readily with our audience.

At the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama stood in front of an audience of thousands and proclaimed, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of a larger American story…and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”

By sharing his story of his family, how he grew up and what he believed in, Obama’s speech made him a contender for the Presidency. You know how the rest of the story goes….

4. They build trust

The neuro-economist, Paul Zak, showed that story-telling stimulates a chemical in our brains called oxytocin. Oxytocin is produced when we feel a connection with someone. It’s particularly high in new mothers as they bond with their baby and is present when we’re in the company of our loved ones.

Through a series of later experiments Zak was able to determine that increased levels of oxytocin led to increased levels of trust between people.

5. They’re more easily remembered

Stories are easier to recall than dry facts, no matter how powerful or convincing those are. When Chip Heath, who wrote the book ‘Made to Stick’, conducted a study with his students at Stanford to find out how well they could recall a series of one-minute speeches, he found that 63% of them were able to recall the stories and only 5% could remember any individual statistic. That’s how powerful stories can be. They become wedged deep into our psyche.

When helping one of our clients identify their company values we knew it was important to them that these weren’t just seen as fancy words on a page. They wanted to create something that was genuinely meaningful to their staff. We helped them collate stories from people in their business that brought their identified values to life. Quite a few of these stories were ones that many people had heard before. They’d worked themselves into the company’s mental archive and are still shared to this day with new recruits to give them a true sense of what it means to work there.

There’s a strong argument for using story-telling in our communication. In our next article, we’ll consider what makes a good story in a business context.

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