At Narativ our approach to communication centers around personal, subjective storytelling.
Personal, subjective storytelling is the ideal form of storytelling in business settings when your goal is to forge a stronger connection between listeners and teller. Yet, because a subtle belief persists in our culture about a necessary separation of personal and business spheres, or of emotion and reason, you might ask, “why?” Why do we not instead call upon the great archetypes of storytelling to dramatize the messages a business seeks to communicate: the hero, rags to riches, the quest, defeating the monster, and so forth? We argue that while powerful, those classic figures of storytelling are not as relatable and immediate as is a subjective story. Subjectivity is the lens through which we see the world, and a subjectively-told story allows others to see through that lens in a way that a myth or pre-conceived formula can not.
In the case of business communications, this relatability is a key component. Whether between leadership and team or salesperson and client, the stories being told are about user experience, from one angle or another. These stories draw some of their relatability from the existing world of interconnected meaning around a given topic, product, or movement. Additionally, they are more relatable because the information they convey is about the activities, mission, or values of the business or organization itself. They do not require analogy or metaphor or other types of re-framing to be of great value. Rather, they need to be boiled down and told in the most immediate and simple terms. Do we need a greater protagonist than Rebecca from Sales who speaks about overcoming her client’s fear of a breathing apparatus? Is there a greater emotional turning point than the moment he said, “Yes”?
How best to tell a personal story is the focus of our method, but the goal is to tell it for maximal connection.
Our entire method could be summarized by the notion of the optimal exchange between listener and teller. In that crucible, sense, meaning, and experiential knowledge will have poignancy, described as “keen or strong in mental appeal; affecting or moving the emotions.” We want listeners to hear, see, taste, touch, and smell the experiences of the tellers—to be there. This personalizes the story material for them as well, and from there, listeners make their own inferences and conclusions. In our method, this is how we put the science of storytelling—mirror neurons, empathic ability, and so forth—to work.
Personal, subjective storytelling in business might even be considered a new genre, or at least a hybrid. Where the personal story has tremendous power—to indicate and evoke emotion—it may bring with it some pitfalls. What is too risky? Or too personal? How do you draw a line? When you consider the subjective dimension of a personal story, meaning, a story being told from “a unique point of view,” you’re emphasizing the framework of communication as well as the content.
Subjective stories structure communication to be highly relatable by virtue of the simple fact that subjectivity is universal. (Ironically, it could be argued that objectivity is less universal in the final analysis. We may never agree on what is a fact, for example, but we can certainly agree that we subjectively experience facts and “fact-ness” and we can find commonality in that experience.) So using subjective stories brings that universality to the table, while the personal content—the degree of personal revelation—is entirely up to the teller. You can talk about drinking a hot chocolate; or drinking a hot chocolate in your mother’s kitchen; or drinking a hot chocolate in your mother’s kitchen when she found out you were pregnant at 15. The storyteller has complete control to dial in the appropriate amount of emotion based on the facts they reveal, while they can be assured all along that subjectivity is keeping their audience tuned in.
There is no reason to not use personal storytelling in business. But you have to have a plan and a method. In our language you formulate the plan by responding to the question, Why story? Why now? And you execute the method by telling only what happened, according to the five senses.
Sasha is the Chief Operating Officer of Narativ. Previously he ran a creative communication agency with his wife, Tatjana Krizmanic. He is also one of the vice presidents of Mangala Shri Bhuti.