Wag Your Tale

Story Stalls

Telling stories can create more trouble than it solves if you appear to be manipulating people, says Simmons. The best way to avoid creating resentment is to make sure you aren't trying to be Machiavellian. "People can smell a faker a mile off," she warns.

Lever-Pollary says she believes her storytelling project succeeded because she didn't force anyone to participate or direct its results to a preconceived ending. "If I'd said, 'We're all going to tell stories because we're all going to feel good about each other,' it could have gone wrong," she says.

It's important to realize that, unlike policy manuals, stories aren't directly controllable. They tend to take on lives of their own as they get passed from one employee to another, and the moral or even the content you desired may get changed or lost. Also be careful not to overuse stories. If you're seen as someone who's constantly recounting war stories or reciting moralistic anecdotes, people may stop paying attention, Stone says.

The real beauty of storytelling may be that almost everyone is already doing it. Managers of all varieties use examples, case studies, corporate myths and other stories to impart the values and practices they want to inculcate. Once you realize the inherent power in what you're already doing, you can refine your technique and make sure you're telling the right stories to achieve the desired results.

Stories don't cost anything, and telling them comes naturally to many people. As Lever-Pollary says, "Everybody has a story."

The last word in story resources can be found at Storytelling Foundation International, a Jonesborough, Tenessee organization devoted to encouraging creative and useful applications for storytelling. See the foundation's collection of articles, event news and other resources on the Web at www.storytellingfestival.net, or call (800) 952-8392 to lean more.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wag Your Tale.

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