Employee Experience

3 Ways You Should Be Using Storytelling to Impact Your Organisation

4 September 2023



Storytelling has been with us since the beginning of humankind. Narrative is one of the most powerful tools we have to inspire, teach and connect with others. But in my experience, it needs to be better utilised by P&C leaders. We tend to favour more easily measurable activities. 

Numbers and statistics have their place, of course. But they don’t captivate and engage an audience like a good story does. So how can we use storytelling to better effect in our organisations? 


Storytelling Affects Our Brain Chemistry 

Firstly, it’s helpful to understand why oral storytelling remains relevant in today’s world. Many of us will remember childhood stories narrated by those who cared most for us. In my family, we fondly remember my mom’s frequent response, “Now that’s another story”. And today, biological studies provide us with an explanation for why we have this connection. 

Research shows that stories activate listeners’ brains’ auditory and left temporal (language) cortices. In some cases, our brain activity actively mirrors that of the storyteller. In a fashion, we share their experiences and emotions – the “surrogate experience”. Furthermore, we are prompted to secrete oxytocin, the bonding hormone. 

These chemical reactions are what motivate us to care about the people involved. In the workplace, this translates to greater empathy and compassion for our colleagues. It makes us more willing to work with them and display other positive social behaviour. 

The following are three suggestions for incorporating storytelling into your P&C leadership practice. 


1. Use Your Story to Lead with Impact

Consider some of the people you admire and wish to emulate. Are there any who won your admiration without sharing their story? I think you’ll find they’re in the minority.  

A personal story explaining your “why” can take your audience on an emotional journey. Allowing others to connect with us at this level empowers and inspires them to act as we would. However, learning how to share our stories takes preparation and practice.  


International storytelling workshop facilitator Robyn Shumer shares these steps; 

Step 1: Create a strong and engaging opening. 

It’s essential to engage your audience right from the start. For example, an opener that shocks or surprises can do the trick. Or try asking a question that will hook them, such as “Can you imagine…”.  

Step 2: Gather content. 

Research your content. Use sticky notes to collect and organize the concepts. 

Step 3: Eliminate the noise. 

Review your concepts and cherry-pick the key elements. Eliminate unnecessary “noise” that may distract from the message you want to deliver.  

Step 4: Incorporate multi-sensory augmentation. 

Draw your listeners in by appealing to all their senses. Describe what things look, feel, sound, and taste like. 

Step 5: Consider your end. 

What do you want your listeners to do with your story? For it to have an impact, make sure they understand the “call to action”. 


2. Create Organisational Storytellers

Organisational storytelling is an invaluable tool in building and sustaining company culture. It captures the critical events and decisions that impact people and makes your culture unique. And in doing so, it informs internal and external stakeholders who you are. 

Increasingly, prospective employees are looking beyond the official company line. The popularity of platforms like Glassdoor points to this. P&C leaders need to help cultivate organisational stories that attract desirable talent. And have an ear to the ground for developing stories that indicate intervention is required.  

A compelling, consistent, representative organisational story must be compiled from multiple perspectives. You should gather contributions from different departments and all levels of the organisation. In doing so, consider the following; 

Active listening 

Active listening means listening without judgement and preconceptions. For example, are employees relating different stories to those told by leadership? Why? What’s keeping those stories alive?  

Active communication 

Step away from passive communication tools like email. We naturally use stories when we converse face to face. 

Active forums 

Create the space, time and opportunity for organisational storytelling to emerge. Storytelling town halls, for example, can be better than static stories recorded on a company intranet. 


3. Empowering Others to Tell Their Stories 

Stories offer a powerful way of perspective sharing. As a universal human experience, they can be particularly valuable in addressing diversity. For example, a 2014 study by Lindsey, King, Helb and Levine found that taking the perspective of others “may have a lasting positive effect on diversity-related outcomes by increasing individuals’ internal motivation to respond without prejudice.” 

It used to be considered unprofessional to share personal stories at work. This is changing, however. Personal stories can help explain our context. Like why we may think and respond differently from others. Or explain activities that don’t always make sense to our colleagues. 

Everybody has a story, but we often don’t consider our stories valuable. To help people share their stories, Rezvani and Gordon, recommend the following; 

Establish A Beginner’s Mindset 

Forget what you think you know about the storyteller and actively listen. 

Offer Empathy and Warmth 

Receive stories with empathy and warmth regardless of whether or not you can relate to their experiences.  

Don’t “Over-Verify” 

Never demand that storytellers provide evidence to support their stories. And don’t expect them to answer questions – ask permission for follow-up and respect the reply.  

Express Thanks 

Always make a point of thanking people for sharing their stories. 


No one should feel pressured to share their story. And when they choose to do so, they should trust those they share it with. Continually check-in that the space you’ve created is psychologically safe.  


A Final Note on Story Stewardship 

In her “Atlas of the Heart”, Brené Brown introduces the concept of story stewardship. It’s the practice of honouring the value of stories – our own, as much as those of others. She cautions us against telling our story before we’re ready to own it. In Brown’s view, we only truly own our story when our well-being is not dependent on the listener’s response. 

We dishonour the stories shared with us when we tap out or take over. Tapping out when we’re disinterested or feeling uncomfortable shuts down the storyteller. Even the subtlest body language can provide feedback that their story is unwelcome. And when we overly identify with a story or don’t believe the storyteller, we risk taking over their narrative. By imposing our perception of events, we diminish the storyteller’s experience. 


Storytelling can be a valuable arrow in the P&C quiver. Contact me if you’d like to understand more about making it part of your leadership practice.