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Why Story is Crucial to Communication

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Story is more ingrained in your subconscious than most people realize. Sure, we’ve all heard how cavemen told stories of their hunting exploits around the fire, so it must be an old tradition. But story is so critical to the way we communicate, it may be the single best way.


Story in Psychology

Did you know there is a stance within psychology that is concerned with how we confront experience by building our own story and listening to others? It’s called narrative psychology. Research has shown that we remember information better if it has been couched in a story rather than in a list.

We believe legal arguments more if they are told in narrative form rather than if they are based solely on legal precedents. On the whole, we are motivated by story before logic. Story is the primary method for communicating our meaning and value. We even make active decisions based on our perceived life story! That’s powerful stuff.


The Storyteller and the Listener

Consider that the storyteller receives a certain social prestige for a story well told. That teller in turn may then subconsciously live her life in a way to garner more of that attention. She signs up for white water rafting, in part, because afterward she will have a good story to tell. In fact, often, the only long-lasting benefit to certain activities is the “good story.” And as the cycle goes, the more stories she tells, the better she gets at it.

The listener, on the other hand, is rewarded by a stimulation of certain psychic impulses. When someone finishes his tale, and we say something like,” That was a good story,” what we mean is that the story, among other things, hit on certain standard story elements, elements like a protagonist getting put into a difficult, maybe hopeless situation, and/or the resolution of such a situation. Experiencing those elements through listening rewards us with a sense of mental satisfaction.

Perhaps, biologically, this is true because story can be an important way to gather valuable experience without having to be present (where we might possibly be endangered). I imagine one of my tribesmen telling me how he almost drowned in the swamp. That’s instructional! You’d better believe I’m going to avoid that swamp in the future, and I didn’t have to pay the price of risk that my fellow tribesman did.


Engage Your Audience With Story

Because we have such a deep-rooted connection to story, why would you choose to communicate with your audience in any other way? I say, always include story, even if other forms of communication are necessary.


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