“Everyone’s got a story.”
We’re sure you’ve heard this phrase at least a couple of times in your life. Ever wondered why it’s always a “story” and not “reason”, “experience”, or just about any other word in reference to certain times in your life? That’s the power of a story, and that’s how we communicate best.
Since the dawn of mankind, stories have kept entire cultures alive: be it folklore from our native lands or mythological tales explaining why we perform the rituals we do. In fact, so many of our traditions were passed down to younger generations solely by word-of-mouth, long before writing was invented. Storytelling has enriched and kept thriving not just cultures, but identities, faiths, and our understanding of the world. We learn, grow and become overall better humans from stories that we hear as children. From tales of moral values as taught in children’s books (who doesn’t remember The Fox and the Grapes?) to fantastic, imaginary lands that whisked us away into experiences unknown. Some of these stories have a lasting impact on adults to this day, such as the literary juggernauts of Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings, among many others.
So, how does storytelling figure within the ambit of effective communication? Let’s find out.
In today’s age of information, we are overwhelmed with data at any given point through the day (and sometimes, night!). We’re all guilty of having multiple tabs, pages, and apps open in order to consume as much information as possible on any topic. What happens to our devices if we do this? They slow down, of course. Something similar happens to our brains when we have an overload of thought processes to consider at the same time, leading to confusion, miscommunication, and conflict.
How do we tackle this? Let’s start with the basics.
Just like how we delete certain apps and pictures from our devices to free up space, our brains also look to make certain forms of repeated communication into subconscious actions—we call these ‘habits.’ Habits are meant to take the load off of your brain and incorporate more space in order to take in more information by making regular actions involuntary, like opening the bottle-cap to drink water, pressing down on a handle to open a door, splashing water on your face when you wake up, etc. Storytelling focuses on engaging our subconscious through metaphorical situations, guiding its plan of action as the story progresses. It’s sort of like a cognitive Connect-The-Dots.
Context serves as a crucial setting here since our brains can absorb meaning much more efficiently if we’ve experienced something before and thus can prepare to communicate more clearly. For example, if a character in a story has experienced a major situation, our brains are trained to treat this information as symbolic of an actual, lived experience. In simpler terms, to your brain, it’s you undergoing that experience, and not the character. Later in life if you encounter a situation similar to that in the story, your brain will associate it with reliving the story itself. It becomes a conditioned reaction, eventually becoming a habit, thus helping your brain take the load off.
Now, how do we incorporate this into our daily lives?
Storytelling and context-setting explore the Whys of a certain communication, making the receiver more empathetic and understanding of your actions. The story behind the outcome adds a dynamic that calls for a deeper and different perspective into the heart of the matter.
In your everyday life, you can try this method with people you see daily, for example, your co-workers and clients. The next time you have a new pitch or a new idea to present, try to organize it in a story-like format. Start with the basics, then build it up with facts and evidence, and top it off with the context leading to the aim of your idea. This will help your team have a detailed, in-depth understanding of why you think your idea will work and will guide you accordingly as compared to simply presenting your idea and leaving it at that. A crucial aspect of strong client communication is taking the time to explain “why,” and to tell the story behind the brand plan.
In interpersonal relationships as well, communicating the Why of your actions will facilitate a deeper connection, helping you eliminate any possibilities of miscommunication or confusion. The outcome may or may not be as per your ideal situation, but you can rest assured that they know your side of the, well, story.
Effective communication makes our lives monumentally easier, but we cannot communicate better if we don’t understand the human tendencies that build it. This, in a way, is a story about our stories, and we hope you can benefit from these in your daily lives.