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Communicating in the Working World

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One of our most basic human needs is to share stories. As a species, we’ve done it for millennia – from grouping around a campfire, telling embellished tales of that day’s hunting or “the one that got away” on the fishing trip. All around the world cultures developed their own story telling traditions and there are characters which repeat in tales that are still told today across the globe.

As children, we loved to listen to stories and to fairy tales.  Many of these tales were aimed at educating us. Think about enduring stories such as Aesop’s Fables, which were written to illustrate a moral situation and which have entered common language like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. We seem to be hardwired  to remember and respond to stories. They have the power to create an emotional connection that simple communications do not. And this is where the power of storytelling and narrative in the business world comes in.

In organisations, we tend towards formality within our communications. Consider the corporate strategy.  So much time taken to craft and communicate.  But all too often, the content tends to reside in PowerPoint slides, websites designed for reading by external audience, in formal language far removed from the front line.  They are written for a multitude of audiences, from the investor to the employee.  But one size rarely fits all.  

Our other ‘internal’ corporate communications are often formal too.  All staff emails. Newsletters. Announcements. Briefings.  Each written in a particular house style, broadcasting the information we want to get across.  By contrast, stories have real power to engage.  To take that formal, corporate language and translate it into language that has meaning, purpose, action.  To take that big picture piece and make it something personal and easy to relate to.  Imagine if we could harness the power of storytelling to communicate instead?  Rather than our corporate “voice”, we could engage and inspire people, and provide connection to the organisation and its aims by telling our stories using a different sort of language.  

Personal stories, well told, will always outdo a formal, written document.  Think for a moment about recruitment advertising.  In the past, the standard practice was the publication of a written job description.  But many companies have now realised that there is a much simpler way to communicate what the job is all about: video.  Check out any good careers website today and you will find real employees talking about their real day jobs.  This technique is often used to good effect by charities too; they tell the personal stories of their beneficiaries rather than list the services they provide. 

Stories can make your organisation more human.  

A key benefit to storytelling in business is its effectiveness in encouraging behavioural change.  Consider employee wellbeing for a moment.  There are plenty of facts and figures about health and wellness.  Advice everywhere.  Only facts and figures rarely change behaviour, whereas personal stories and real life examples can.  Real people talking about real wellbeing.  Share a success story and it will be remembered in a way that a statistic will not.  

Stories can be both simple and flexible. In our fast-moving corporate world, the 5-year plan is dead.  Even a 2-year plan can be too long. Providing a narrative of today and tomorrow can allow employees to better understand the organisation and the intent of its leadership.  It isn’t about publishing key performance indicators but creating connection with the organisational direction as it develops and changes.   

One reason that using stories and narratives can be so successful is that it’s easy to see yourself within that story. It has more meaning on a personal level than formal messaging ever can. It’s another key human trait; imagining our part in that story. If we were the hero, how would we react? Returning to employee wellbeing, what does this story mean for our own health and wellness?  How does it reflect our experiences of our personal wellbeing at work?  "Could this be me too?" 

Stories have a powerful potential for spreading key messages.  The most important thing to remember when telling your own organisational narrative is that a good story doesn’t need to be polished, it just needs to be real.   

In the same way that we used to share stories around a campfire, employees will share your corporate tales too if you provide interesting and engaging content.  Good for consumer and employer brand, good for engagement, good for transparency and authenticity.  

The End. 

Connect with Gemma Dale comment below or tweet @HR_Gem. 

Start the conversation with your people, join us at the Good Day At Work Conversation where we explore the language of wellbeing as well as much more. See the full agenda here.

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Guest Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Cary CooperGood Day at Work™

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

Ben MossBen on Twitter

MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

Cary CooperCary on Twitter

Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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