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Storytelling - An Unexpected Tool for Employee Learning

“Tell us a little bit about yourself.”

It’s a common job interview question. Recruiters believe it is a decisive one. But what are they really looking for? Not a museum tour of our achievements. Neither an outline of our life. They seek a window into who we are, through stories. 

Why are stories important to us? 

At LATE NITE ART, when we ask you for a story about the neighborhood you grew up in, or a time when you did something courageous, we get some confused looks. After all, the question doesn’t seem to directly translate into employee learning. Yet, we insist. Here’s why: 

  • Through stories, we understand people. In fact, reading fiction increases our empathy for others.

  • The emotions in stories help us learn. Without surprise, delight or frustration, learning is weak.

  • Stories make us more attentive by lighting up parts of our brain that data doesn’t: motor cortex when we hear about movement, the sensory cortex when we hear of smells and textures.

  • It also prompts cooperative behavior - inspires trust, generosity, and kindness.

Stories build culture. They build the brand, and set the tone for how your employees feel about their work, the company, and each other.

Sounds great for personal connections. But, do stories help organizations?

Yes! Stories build culture.

They build the brand, and set the tone for how your employees feel about their work, the company, and each other. Here’s a story a COO told about his organization:

Penguins don’t nurture their sick. If one of their pack is injured or infirm, the rest attack it. They don’t want to be weighed down by the unfit. Elephants, on the other hand, care for each other. The entire heard rallies around the sick member.” And then he would add with pride, “we are like the penguins.” What happened to the company? It collapsed. The employees didn’t feel valued; the culture was toxic. 

Here are some ways you can weave stories into your workplace: 

Build relationships: 

Addressing a team of new employees? Share about how you felt on the first day of your first job – it’ll convey that you empathize with their nerves. Is the morale of your team low? Ask for a story about a time they’ve loved working with this team. Better, if you start first. Go for details. Paint a picture.

Emphasize values: 

When Airbnb leaders heard stories of guests being denied due to their race or religion, it was shocking. Such behavior by hosts was a violation of values. So, Airbnb launched the #WeAccept campaign to support the guests. Watch it here. It is deeply moving. Similarly, how can you help your team relate to company values? Think images, emotions, challenges and successes. Unless brought to life, values and culture remain mere words. 

In the words of author Phillip Pullman, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Don’t shy away from one. 

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We use more than stories.


About the Author

Nilisha Mohapatra is a trainer, mental health practitioner, and experiential educator, dedicated to building imaginative spaces for learning of all kinds. Using arts-based practices, she cultivate skills in young people and adults, across geographies and cultures. Be it organizational teams, youth from marginalized backgrounds, or teachers, Nilisha's practice bridges the worlds of depth and play, invoking meaningful conversations.

Nilisha Mohapatra

Nilisha Mohapatra is a trainer, social change agent, experience designer, and personal change coach. She is dedicated to building imaginative spaces for learning of all kinds. She joined the LATE NITE ART team as a facilitator and creative consultant in 2016. Using arts-based practice and process work, she cultivate skills in young people and adults, cross geographies and cultures. Be it non-profit / corporate teams, youth from marginalized backgrounds, or teachers, Nilisha's practice bridges the worlds of depth and play, inviting people to explore both new and challenging themes.

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