Storytelling: It can be HR’s most effective tool to communicate, engage and persuade in the workplace.
Sure, it’s easy – and boring – to rattle off all the data and analysis you have at your fingertips. But you can’t sell a great idea, engage employees or get your boss’s ear by reading information.
If you want people at work to listen – and act – you need a story.
“Crafting a story to re-frame, reveal or resolve takes more work than spewing out facts,” says Stephanie Scotti, owner of Professional Speaking, a speaking coach firm. “But it is worth the effort if your goal is to create meaning, ensure listeners understand and are motivated to take action.”
Your story can stand alone or it can enhance the data and facts you need to share.
Here’s how to write or tell a story that engages others and delivers results.
The good news: You probably have an arsenal of good stories to share. The key is to make a connection between your story and the business need.
Condense your story into three simple parts: The main character (unnamed employee, family member, boss, you, etc.):
- has a goal
- runs into unexpected problems
- overcomes the problems and gets a positive result.
For example: An HR manager wanted support for a new plan. Many of the executives she’d have to ask for approval had developed the current plan – and likely held pride in it.
She told her story: “My father recently needed a new shirt for a big event. Actually, my mother felt my father needed the new shirt! He agreed to order one from the same retailer he’d always used. Similar design, better color and the exact size he wore. The shirt arrived, but it didn’t fit right. It wasn’t he perfect shirt he’d remembered. He had limited time – and my mother had limited patience! He had to try something different. Dad rushed to a local store, tried on three shirts, and found one that was better than the one he’d always loved.“
(Note, a little humor helps a story.)
Make the point
Storytelling at work isn’t like storytelling around a campfire. You want to be brief, quickly moving from the goal to the obstacle to the solution and the positive outcome.
Then you want to make the point – what you hope the audience gains or grants from it.
Our HR manager in the example went on: “Here’s the point. Sometimes we think what always has worked is still the perfect fit. But it may not be the right fit going forward.“
Apply the story
Now’s the time to build the bridge. Explain why the story and your point are relevant to your audience.
In the case of our HR manager, she said: “The plan we use now had a place and time when it was the perfect fit. But it won’t serve us as well going forward. Like my dad, it’s time to consider alternatives. I have a recommendation based on research and use … “
Try these best practices for finding and building your library of stories:
- Collect stories. Pull stories and lessons from books, magazines and blogs. Take notes, make them your own and test them with friends before using them at work.
- Listen to others’ stories. Encourage people at work to tell stories and the lessons they’ve learned. Ask if you can share their relevant stories – or better, ask if they’ll share their own in relevant situations.