Stop storytelling, start storylistening

Has anyone ever whispered words that made you look at something in a completely different light?

Has anyone ever whispered words that made you look at something in a completely different light?

…challenges the established way of thinking…

I’m not talking about social media revelations such as: “I was today years old when I learned that Pringles lids fit perfectly onto little dessert pots” or “OMG! We’re eating bananas all wrong”. Although I LOVE this kind of shizzle.

No, I’m talking about those jaw dropping moments when someone challenges the established way of thinking about something. Suddenly the pieces of what you believe to be true start disassembling and reforming in front of your eyes. You think: “How have I never thought of that or seen it that way before?”

Here’s an example.

I was asked to communicate a change to the way the BBC commissioned radio programmes. This was a big deal for staff, so I ran the draft comms plan past a broad range of colleagues. One said: “I love the plan, and the idea of getting people to share their previous experiences of change. I wouldn’t call them change ‘stories’ though. The word ‘stories’ calls to mind tall tales and lies.”

Well, that got my attention! She was right; although I’d always taken the word at face value, I could see how it could be interpreted that way. Building trust was a critical part of the plan so we opted not to label the storytelling element.

This experience gave me three things:

  • actionable feedback to improve our communications approach
  • a reminder of the power of language and the need to choose your words carefully
  • reassurance that I’d created an environment where people felt comfortable sharing their candid thoughts and concerns.

Listening to people and giving them the chance to inform, critique, and build on my work has always been important to me. Funnily enough, just as I entered the world of work in 1999, Amy Edmondson coined the term ‘psychological safety’. You can spot a psychologically safe workplace – it’s one where workers feel safe to share ideas, voice challenge, take risks, make mistakes, request help and express emotions. As a result, harmful policies and practices get called out and communication, innovation and problem-solving improve.

You’ll hear me talk about psychological safety a lot. It plays a big part in fostering the I in the KIND™ model of employee engagement

KIND leaders create a psychologically safe listening environment where everyone is welcome and set up for success.

Listening was a prominent theme at the 2024 CIPR Inside Summit, where I learned a new term – ‘storylistening’. This is the practice of gathering narrative evidence to inform policy and decision-making. If storytelling is a vital skill for leaders, and for organisations who want to communicate their vision and purpose in a memorable, engaging way, so too is storylistening. Really tune in to your employees, notice what is and is not being said, ask how you can do better. Just like I did with my change communication plan.

I do still use the word ‘story’ by the way – you can read the Shoffice Comms story here – but I’m clear about the context.

I would love to hear your ‘say, what?’ moments. When have you had your eyes opened to a new perspective at work?


Leave a Reply