October 20, 2017
Business leaders must exhibit the interpersonal and business communication skills that allow them to form positive relationships with others. And when it comes to establishing and maintaining those relationships at work and elsewhere, one communication technique really shines—storytelling.
Storytelling is one of the earliest forms of communication. Before humans could read and write, they relied on storytelling to connect and share information with others. Over time, we expanded on how we transfer information to others by using written text and graphical representations. We worked to be more precise and concise, making use of models, graphs, charts, and bulleted lists. Storytelling took a backseat for a long time, recognized as a skill that only writers or performers needed to possess.
Having come full circle, we’re back to acknowledging storytelling as one of the best methods for getting a message across and connecting with others. Now everyone who understands the value of storytelling wants to be able to tell great stories.
One reason storytelling has reclaimed its elevated status is that we now have greater insight into how our brains process information. We see how humans are affected by stories. As explained in the AMA seminar Storytelling Power: Secrets for Exceptional Communication, our brains don’t distinguish between stories and reality, which enables us to experience events that don’t actually happen in our own lives simply by having them explained to us through words and/or images. The sadness, anxiety, excitement, or joy that is communicated through a story can be internalized and felt rather than merely contemplated philosophically—something that isn’t likely to be accomplished with even the fanciest of pie charts.
Storytelling translates into new and improved relationships by encouraging something that great relationships are built upon: empathy. Indeed, the ability to empathize is a base requirement for developing authentic relationships with others, and the act of vicariously experiencing the feelings of another person—such as through a story—is the very definition of empathy itself.
When we believe that we genuinely understand, or empathize with, another person, we tend to judge that person less harshly and appreciate him or her more. This understanding further develops and strengthens a relationship, long after a great story has been told.
Business storytelling is a great way to build rapport. Humans are social creatures, and as such, maintaining healthy relationships is an essential part of our well-being. Also, having positive business relationships enables us to be more collaborative and ultimately more productive at work, meaning these relationships have a desirable effect on the bottom line.
It’s for this reason that successful companies place such a high value on interpersonal employee communication skills, and why the ability to tell a great story is recognized more and more as an invaluable business communication skill.