“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” — Henry David Thoreau
As children, we’re told many stories, some of which were created and passed down to help teach life lessons. Storytelling has been around for thousands of years, and there are many parables, fables, and legends that we share as a collective society.
Stories bring us together, bond groups emotionally, and connect them to their purpose. The use of stories also has an immense impact in the business world, increasing workplace empathy, strengthening leadership, and as a team-building strategy.
Storytelling Shows and Builds Empathy
When someone hears a story, rather than just raw facts and data, they begin to see themselves in the same situation and build connecting emotions. By identifying others’ emotions and relating them to their own self, they draw upon these feelings and lessons within the story when they’re faced with a similar situation.
When a leader tells a story about a problem or mistake, they personally faced, the leader shows authenticity and vulnerability, as well as empathy for the everyday problems and decisions those in the organization face. Trust is built, and the leader is inevitably saying, “I see your point of view” and “I understand you and your challenges.”
An empathetic leader gains trust, builds connections amongst the team, and emotionally motivates everyone towards a common goal.
Storytelling Produces Empathy in Teams
By using stories, leaders also activate empathy in their teams as individuals begin to see themselves in multiple stories. Not only does a story show that a leader has had a shared experience, but it opens up the idea that when we put ourselves in other people’s narratives, and listen carefully with the intent to understand, it triggers their own emotions, and we’ll be better able to identify with them.
Empathy is not sympathy, it’s placing judgement aside, understanding the emotions someone else is experiencing and then communicating that understanding. When you show empathy, you’re feeling WITH people, not FOR them which illustrates to them that you are standing along side them and opening yourself up to the same emotions they are experiencing (back to the idea of being vulnerable!). Think of how empathy can improve relationships among team members as well as accelerate relationships with clients.
Why Lead with Empathy?
Why is empathy, and the cultivation of an empathetic team, an important attribute in an organization? Sure, it’s great to know that the leader has your back and understands you, and as a salesperson, you do truly need to understand where the client is coming from, but there’s more to it.
Empathy fosters actions focused on helping others. Stories are used to break down bias and foster inclusiveness among teams. When a culture is built on listening, empathy, and inclusiveness the team is stronger, more resilient, and more apt to be successful. Empathizing with your team, your boss, your coworkers, and your colleagues won’t make you soft or a pushover — it will give you more influence and relatability.
Storytelling, Empathy, and Teams
Empathy opens the doors to psychological safety and creativity. When team members know that their leader and colleagues are open to listening and feeling alongside them, ideas and conversations enter a safe place. Encourage storytelling to express ideas and feelings so others can experience meaning-making and examine their beliefs and emotions – and how they align with others. When someone hears a story, they gain new perspectives, better understand the world around them and expand their approach to problem-solving.
So, go ahead, be a storyteller and encourage others to share theirs! Connections will be made; trust will be built, and creativity and success will follow!