Storytelling for Business

by Nick Owen

Teaching stories

Use this type of story when you want to make a point, teach a way of doing things, offer a framework or give a context so that other person knows the way you do things and think about things around here. Use this type of story to let others know not only what you’d like them to do but, much more importantly, how you would like them to do it. In one way or another, most stories are teaching stories.

Requirements

  • It can be positive or negative (as in a warning story).
  • It demonstrates the underlying reason or purpose for doing things in the way you suggest.
  • Make it human.
  • Don’t just teach the ‘facts’; teach the wider context so the learning or process makes sense in a systemic way.
  • Make it as simple as you can, but not any simpler; if there is complexity to communicate, don’t shirk it.
  • Very often, teaching stories are inextricably connected to values stories.
  • Focus on the how at least as much as the what; pay attention to personal attributes at least as much as skills and behaviours
Example

Telling your new receptionist where the hold, transfer and extension buttons are on the console is not going to make her a great receptionist. However, telling her about the best receptionist you ever knew, Mrs Ardi from Bangladesh, who could simultaneously calm an angry customer, locate your wandering CEO and smile warmly at the UPS man, gives a much more clear-cut picture of the skills you want her to display. Later, under stress, her brain is better equipped to handle complex situations if she asks herself, ‘What would Mrs Ardi do?’ instead of ‘Where is the hold button?’

Example

Mother Mouse is watching her newly-born mouselets playing. They’re having a great time when Tom Cat arrives. He’s about to get started on his lunch when Mother Mouse jumps over the babies, putting herself in harm’s way, and stares straight into Tom Cat’s eyes. ‘Ruff, ruff, ruff!’, she barks. Tom is so surprised he turns and runs off. ‘There you are,’ says Mother Mouse, ‘let that be a lesson to you. Never underestimate the importance of speaking the language of the enemy.’