Friday, November 09, 2012

The Power of Positive Stories


Jesus certainly knows the power of good stories! (courtesy of Life with Da Man CD)

Since time immemorial, storytelling has influenced billions around the globe.

We've all heard of cave men and women sitting around a fireplace, listening intently as a wizened elder regaled the tribe with heroic chronicles of his younger days.

As kids, we're lulled gently to sleep by a home-brewed fairytale lovingly conjured by our mums or dads. As teenagers, we love to be scared out of our wits by ghost stories told by our seniors during those over night camps. As students in school, we're motivated by moving tales of heroism and triumph made by our teachers and professors.

I'm sure many older Singaporeans have heard of master storyteller Lee Dai Soh. Back in the good old days, he would entertain our parents and grandparents with spellbinding tales over the Rediffusion radio sets.


Lee Dai Soh shows us how storytelling is done (courtesy of Singapore HeritageFest)

As we grow older and enter the workforce, the nature of storytelling changes. Of course, we still share sweet little accounts of our lives. What we did during our vacation last summer. How our kids are doing in school. Which outfit caught our fancy. How unforgettable that new restaurant was.

More often than not, however, we start trading stories about our colleagues. Good, bad and often ugly. Bosses (particularly "ugly" ones) occupy a high percentage of our bandwidths, sapping our energy and enthusiasm.

Somehow or other, that sense of wonderment disappears in a work setting. Storytelling has devolved from an act of inspiration to an outlet of condemnation. It takes on the awful guise of rumour, gossip and slander.

Ask yourself this question. When was the last time you were truly inspired and energised by a story told by a boss, a colleague or a corporate leader?

It is timely, perhaps, to consider switching our narratives. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, why don't we focus on what went right?

Spin stories that motivate, encourage and inspire. Harness the powerful of the personal narrative to spread goodwill and cheer.

Chronicle those pivotal moments when your organisation won a huge account, overcame near death, or was awarded with a grand accolade. Relate how you smoothed the feathers of an extremely difficult customer. Or how the guys solved that diabolical engineering problem which threatened to shut your plants down.

Positive stories don't have to be formal. In fact, what's being traded around the water cooler may be more impactful than what's shared during a town hall meeting.

While leaders are often the chief storytellers in any organisation, employees of any level should also weave their own tales. Managers can encourage their team members to share affirmative stories. Through positive storytelling, everybody can build a culture of resilience, optimism, and learning.

Stories are powerful tools. They influence behaviours, change mindsets, and spur action. Perhaps, it is time for us to harness its constructive power. Let us regain that fiery idealism of our youth with bold, courageous and impactful narratives that inspire, motivates and builds. Let us transform our organisations from the inside-out, one story at a time.

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