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The purpose of organizational storytelling

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Storytelling in organizations > The purpose of organizational storytelling

Teaching | Power | Anxiety release | Entertainment | See also

 

Why tell stories in organizations? Beyond the primitive reason that they are a superb communication medium, there are several purposes that may be served by telling stories at work.

Teaching

When done deliberately, stories in organizations teach people how to behave and how not to behave. This includes:

  • What to say/not day
  • What do do/not do
  • In what situations do these apply/not apply

Teaching tales often take the form of a person doing something and then getting rewarded or punished in some way (to symbolize what is good and not good).

Teaching tales can also tell people what to think and believe for example in describing values in action or explaining a schema.

Thus, for example, founder myths may be used to teach values and heroic stories to teach good behavior.

Power

Teaching stories stories may also say something about power in the organization, warning of people not to cross and illustrating how power is gathered and wielded.

When told as a personal story, they may be used to propagate the power of the storyteller. For example, if I talk about a conflict that I won, I am putting forward the idea that I am not a person to be crossed.

Thus leadership stories and stories of failure can tell how power works and does not work in the organization.

Anxiety release

When stories are told informally, such as in common gossip, they often take the form of expressing concern about something and may be prefixed with such framing phrases as 'Did you hear about...'

The reason people tell these stories is that they feel anxious about something. This creates tension, which in turn leads to the need for the release of sharing it with others. 'A trouble shared is a trouble halved', as they say.

Telling others about your anxieties seeks sympathy from the other person and may position you as a victim in the Drama Triangle.

Entertainment

'Everyday' stories often have the purpose to stimulate and entertain people. Although many organizational stories have other purposes, they may also be intended to entertain, for example telling of people doing silly things (and so having some element of teaching!).

Entertainment stories have a social purpose in creating excitement and the release of laughter and position the storyteller as a person whose company is to be enjoyed and so creating bonding.

See also

Stress, Power

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