Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Beyond Storytelling: When, Why and How to Work with Stories
Presenters: Criscillia Benford and Anna Marie Trester, PIER Consulting Group
Summary of Conference Session
This session's speakers are both social scientists, focused on linguistics and humanities. Their powerful session at the QRCA Conference looked at the use of narrative inquiry and storytelling in order to facilitate workplace conversations and help organizations build better work environments and relationships with their customers.
Key Session Takeaways
There's nothing more deeply human than stories. As long as humans have been able to talk, we’ve been telling stories. We process what’s happening to us and catalogue it in the form of stories. In Silicon Valley, storytelling is now starting to replace traditional methods, such as surveys, in assessing employee satisfaction. The speakers use narrative inquiry to help organizations learn how communication is experienced within their cultures, and how these experiences shape their cultures.
There are three key steps to the process of a narrative inquiry:
Step 1 – collect stories
Step 2 – process stories
Step 3 – look for patterns among the stories
In the case of an organization looking to better understand its current culture, step one involves meetings with stakeholders in order to consider what the experience of a young employee in their organization may be like, and ultimately formulating two to four themes. The speakers then use a story circle whereby 10 employees/peers sitting in a circle share their stories about the organization. An example of a prompt for the story circle: "Think about a time when a supervisor gave you some advice—it may have been in a formal setting, like in their office, or an informal setting, like in a coffee shop. What did the supervisor say and how did you feel about it?"
In step two, a group of 10-30 stakeholders review the stories collected from the employees, and start to make sense of them by considering the emotions, feelings, actions, and dialogues expressed in those stories.
In step three, the stakeholders start to cluster the ideas emerging from the stories and look for repetition and patterns of behavior within their organization.
In summary, narrative inquiry is used to identify what’s working and what’s not working in a culture. From there, the team helps the organization create intervention initiatives. Storytelling can be used in many ways to help our clients better understand a challenge they are facing. For example, storytelling can be used in new product development projects, where moderators can ask respondents to tell us the best and the worst stories they have had with a particular category or brand.
The presenters emphasized that as facilitators during the narrative inquiry, we have to be as invisible as possible—if you intervene in the stories being told, you won’t hear the details.
Stories contain worlds... but it's just as important to hear what isn't being said (referred to as a Noisy Not), as it is to hear what is being said.
QRCA Reporter on the Scene: Farnaz Badie, The Thought Bubble