STORYTELLING IS EVERYWHERE
It seems like every time you turn around, someone new is extolling the virtues of storytelling.
And this inspires the question, “Is storytelling really that important?”
It is, and there’s plenty of research to back this fact. For example, sensory-rich, emotional stories trigger the release of hormones like Oxytocin, Dopamine, and Endorphins in your body.
Consider the work of Uri Hasson and his team at Princeton University. In a series of studies using MRIs they discovered that when people listen to the same story, their brains become ‘aligned.’ They react as if they’re experiencing the story
Why Science Isn’t Enough
This research is fascinating, but there’s one problem with it — it’s too theoretical. The ideas sound good, but, you don’t know that these hormones are flooding through your body. You don’t feel your brain waves creating specific patterns.
I’m guessing that the following doesn’t happen when you watch an exciting movie, read a thrilling novel or listen to an interesting TED talk. You probably don’t sit back and think, “Wow, I’ll bet those endorphins are racing through my bloodstream.” Or, “Are my brain images synched with the other people watching this movie.”
That’s not what happens. You simply enjoy the movie, book or talk.
The Simple Proof
For five years, I’ve searched for an experiential exercise that proves that we think in stories. I finally found one in the work of Dr. Kendall Haven — a leading researcher on the impact of stories on our brains. The exercise he inspired is simple, but it proves the relationship between our brains and stories.
Here’s the exercise:
You’re about to read two sentences. Once you read them, pause three to five-seconds before you then read two questions. Once you read the questions, what are the first responses that come to your mind?
Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers. Don’t edit or censor yourself, just answer the questions.
Here are the two statements:
- Person A says, “Have you seen John?”
- Person B says, “I didn’t want to say anything, but I saw a red Honda Civic in Janet’s driveway this morning.”
<Pause for reflection>
Here are the two follow-up questions:
- What’s going on here?
- What is the relationship between these 4 people – Person A, Person B, John, and Janet?
<Pause for reflection>
How did you respond?
When I ask this question in my presentations, I get a wide variety of answers. The most common is, “There’s an affair going on.”
The Common Problem With This Exercise
Once I hear three or four responses, I inform the audience that there is a flaw in this exercise. And it’s my fault.
The problem is that I failed to provide you with context. I didn’t say “Person A said to Person B ‘Have you seen John?’ “
I said, “Person A says, “Have you seen John?” and Person B says, “I didn’t want to say anything, but I saw a red Honda Civic in Janet’s driveway this morning.”
Person A may have been talking to person B, or they could be two people having separate conversations. I wasn’t clear and didn’t give you context.
Here’s what’s interesting. With the information you read, your brain created a story to fill in the missing gaps. Research has shown that our brains don’t like uncertainty. Thus, they will create the most likely story based on past experiences.
Why should you care about this?
What relevance does this have to you?
You create a problem if you aren’t clear in your communications. The people you’re talking with are crafting a story you do not want them telling themselves.
If you’re a salesperson, and prospective clients aren’t buying, it’s because their story doesn’t show them the benefit of your product or service.
If you’re a leader and people aren’t following you, it’s because their story doesn’t show them the benefit of the vision you’re presenting to them.
If you’re struggling to parent a child, your kid’s story isn’t showing him/her the benefit of the idea you’re presenting.
These are three of the countless examples of relationships we experience. And these interactions have one aspect in common. The brain of everyone involved is always creating stories.
Three Short Questions To Answer For Better Communication
The next time you prepare to talk with a loved one, co-worker or group, ask yourself, “Am I being clear? Am I giving the right context? Will the words I’m about to say enable them to create the story I want them to tell themselves?”
Do this, and your impact and influence will improve.