Why are we afraid of story?

August 1st, 2007

Storytelling, I think, is a part of being human. We hear stories, tell stories and make sense of the world through stories. So why are some of us so afraid of stories? Here’s a conversation I had this week.

Me: We’ll provide an opportunity for folk to tell a short story about something positive that’s happened to them at work in the last 12 months. It’s a good connecting activity called Jumpstart Stories – they talk in groups of about 10 for 90 seconds each.

Client: What if they don’t know what to say? Shouldn’t we warn them?

Me: Maybe that would create some anxiety – this is supposed to be a positive experience.

Client: What if they don’t take part?

Me: Look at it like a dinner party conversation. Someone starts and then that triggers an idea for someone else.

Client: OK – I think.

Which got me wondering why some of us are afraid of storytelling. Is it to do with a lack of practice, or the danger of appearing foolish, or a feeling that our stories are not ‘good’ enough? Beats me. Maybe story has a bad rap – we no longer can distinguish between fictional and real stories. Bullet points are real – stories are make believe.

Let’s tell more stories at work – at home, anywhere. Let’s reconnect with story. Let’s start here – tell us your story.

2 Comments so far

  1. Shawn Callahan on August 2, 2007 7:50 am

    From my experience Viv, when people hear the term ‘story’ they think of well crafted stories created by creative types like authors and scriptwriters and think, “I can’t do that!” I tend to avoid the ‘story’ word and ask people to share their experiences, memorable moments, key events, examples and generally what happened. All of which elicit stories.

  2. Andrew Rixon on August 4, 2007 1:29 am

    Great post and question Viv!

    Amazing how the notion of fear seems to be coming up more and more around the ridges these days.

    Fear of storytelling sure is one.

    It seems to me that organisations have gotten so used to ‘transactional’ language. We found studies naming it ‘institutional talk’ in our paper on language in facilitation. But, I reckon the bigger problem is that because of this more transactional language, people are getting so used to the ‘analytical’ mindset of thinking in organisations. The mindset which storytelling invokes is that of a more emotional / emotive mindset. And for this reason this makes people nervous and anxious. The reason being, in organisations, “analytic is good”, “emotional is bad”. Because, after-all, how do we talk and deal with the emotional?

    As a facilitator, I think part of our job is to help people overcome ‘process anxiety’.

    Yesterday, I facilitated a workshop where, by using the Hero’s Journey as a metaphor to change, the group came to the conclusion that resistance to change (or refusal of the call) is just part and parcel of the change process (call to adventure). Maybe a not so common wisdom? So, by being familiar with the usual “story” of change it seems to help us manage and maybe even facilitate ourselves better.

    So, I wonder whether introducing new processes like “story” and the reactions that people have, are just part of a “change” process already beginning?

    Warm regards,

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