Effective Communication: Tell Stories That Work In The Workplace

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There’s a time and place for everything – including stories. You wouldn’t bring up that one time you got drunk at your cousin’s wedding during your quarterly performance review. Equally you wouldn’t talk about an embarrassingly bad performance review at your parent’s house for a Sunday night roast. For communication to be effective you need to understand what kind of stories work in which kinds of situations. And that is especially true for the workplace.

Different kinds of stories can achieve different goals. To choose the kind of story you should tell in your workplace, you should always start with the outcome you’re trying to achieve.

A few weeks ago we covered the 5 fundamental techniques of good storytelling. In this post, we go through a number of scenarios to help you find the most appropriate story to get your message through to your audience.

Situation/desired outcome Type of story and what it is Example
When you want to communicate a new idea.When you’re trying to get buy-in to a new vision or direction. Social proof stories Stories of those who have gone before with similar new ideas and succeeded. Two or three stories help to get your audience on board. When I asked Maria why she chose Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown she said ‘I went to TripAdvisor and the reviews were astounding. They were not wrong. I would give Eichardt’s a 6 if I could.’ So we have booked in for our Summer NZ holiday.
When presenting to a hard or shutdown audience, overcoming resistance or getting the audience to open theIr minds. Resistance stories Stories that engage people, bring them down from a cynical place. Complaining about the rain doesn’t stop the rain. Complaining about change is the same. When I was working with the Australian Quadriplegic Association I remember Chris, who broke his neck diving under waves at Bondi, saying to me: ‘I can’t change my body but I can change my mind’. This guy had perspective.
When you’re trying to encourage a certaIn kind of behaviour from your audience. Embedded strategy stories A story wherein the hero displays the kinds of behaviours you’re wanting to encourage. Last week, Kathy from QNZ Head Office in Melbourne sent me an email telling me how she used the methodology. She wrote:‘It was so simple. I spent 15 minutes focusing on the outcome from the audience perspective and then did a quick CPD map and then, doing the ‘Walk Tall’ exercise, went to the meeting and nailed it. That would not have happened before. Thank you.’
When you’re lookIng to improve morale and motivation or prepare your audience for thinking in an innovative way. Inspiring stories Inspiring stories usually contain an element of overcoming a large obstacle, against all odds. These can be lofty, but be careful that they are not too lofty to connect and inspire your audience. Last year a young woman, Kim, contacted me to ask for advice. Just 22 years old, she asked for 10 minutes of my time. Of course, I said yes. This is what I learned about her: She is not afraid to ask. She works for one of the banks. She has already had face time with three members of the Executive Leadership Team. Her goal is 10 minutes with the CEO in the next three months. She has no constraints on asking.Her approach? “I only ask once, and I always expect a no. No one loses. My goal is to leave them with some value too,” she told me.
Opening a keynote.Giving a speech at a team dinner.Talking with an employee group over drinks, creating a relaxed atmosphere. Stories that engage and entertain Much like a book or a movie, these stories are simply stories that are enjoyable and/or entertaining. Two years ago I was coming out of the Tattersalls Club on Phillips Street in Sydney on a cold, rainy, winter’s afternoon. Mike, a big man, and a GM in the software industry was walking with me. There are three steps down to the pavement. Mike, for some reason, did not see them… Have you heard of the expression ‘arse over tip’? After an arm whirling display, Mike landed with a thwack on the wet pavement. He lay flat on his back, the rain falling on his face and smart, grey suit. Even the papers he was carrying were blown away in the rain-driven wind.What did he do? He looked up at me and said (with a glint in his eye) “I have never looked at you from this angle before.” Mike is a man in supreme control of himself.

Now you know what kinds of stories to tell, you’ll need to learn how to tell them well. It’s no good just throwing a story in and hoping for the best – without structure your message will be lost. To learn how to structure and deliver your next communication piece – whether it’s a speech to the masses or a pitch to you boss – download our ebook What’s the story? 

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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