Storytelling in Business

Storytelling in Business is not new, but people still struggle in bringing Storytelling and Business together. As Bronwyn Fryer brilliantly points out in the article Storytelling that Moves People,  most people are uneasy to speak about the difficulties in their lives. Firstly, we are brought up that it is a matter of courtesy not to speak too much about the difficult parts in our lives. Secondly, you too may find it difficult to speak about a difficult situation, while you are still in it. Brené Brown suggests that difficult situations should only be the subject of storytelling, once you have overcome them and any opinion one others have, will not offend you. I cannot recall, where I heard this from her, most probably in Daring Greatly.

So, is storytelling all about using strong emotions, such as from a difficult situation in your life, and connecting it with what you do in business? Well, I don’t think so. I think this is part of it, but there is more to it. 

Jürgen Bolten points out that the main characteristic of a communication is a social situation. Any situation can be a communication, regardless of the intent, as long as there is a receiver. So, if a person spits in the sand, it may be communication, if there are people witnessing the act. If there is no one, there is no communication. If there is a camera and some people watch the situation at another point in time – it is communication again. For me, this also implies that storytelling is happening all the time. You do not need to intend it, but you may have come across a situations, where people made up stories about you, because of something they saw or thought they saw in your behavior. 

Hence, there is intentional storytelling, the stories that you use to get your message across and there is storytelling about you, which may not be intentional, but you are still at the source of what is being told through your behavior. That is one of the reasons that authenticity is valued so highly in our times. Being authentic means that your unintentional behavior matches your intentional messages, or along with Friedemann Schulz von Thun: good communication is aligned with your emotions and adequate to the situation.

You may ask yourself, how can you claim authorship for both the intentional and unintentional storytelling? I agree that this requires some self-reflection, just as explained by Bronwyn Fryer. I would like to add to, that self-reflection does not need to take a lot of time, but can happen any moment. I sometimes struggle with this. Almost any situation generates expectations from others including those from myself and I need to recognize my own feelings in order to find a meaningful response. And this is a never ending story.

Talking to others, getting different perspectives, will help to understand expectations better and may well help avoiding misunderstandings. But there is also the need to be O.K. with ambiguity, with the fact that my response may be inappropriate and so on. Part of the beauty in storytelling comes from the fact that the story is a living construction, the struggle to make sense of what is going on. If a story only rings true, in the way it is being told, but does not convey your open questions anymore, you may find that your audience is loosing interest.