Storylistening versus Storytelling?

This week’s chat2lrn is a post from crew member Fiona Quigley, who works for Logicearth Learning Services based in Ireland. 

I just love stories; it was an integral part of my Irish upbringing – two Scottish grannies and family of singers tends to make it that way!

And over the last few years, I’ve had a bit of a hobby collecting stories. I’m not a great storyteller myself, but I do love to listen to others’ stories and to collect them. Over the last few years, I’ve collected more than 1500 women’s career stories. Some are short – a couple of paragraphs, while others go on and on for pages, reaching a eureka moment at the end.

This ‘hobby’ started off very innocently. I kept reading about the pay and gender gap, and also read various statistics about women’s prospects in the workplace. The so-called glass ceiling seemed as far off as ever. I sent a few emails to friends asking for their career stories and in particular to reflect on any transitions or decision points they encountered. These friends also kindly sent emails to other women and before I knew it, I was getting lots of stories from all over the world.

I’m lucky to know lots of strong, capable and ambitious women, so I was intrigued when many of the gender/pay statistics hadn’t seemed to have changed in the last 10 years. The decision points in the women’s stories ranged from going for their first promotion, getting married, to having children, and dealing with personal or family illness. All impacted their careers – some in a good way, some not so good.

The stories are precious to me, and I won’t ever share them but I have learned a lot from them.

So what did I learn?

Well often the most important storylistener needs to be ourselves. We go through day-to day life, almost automatically at times. We get caught up in our own and many other people’s narratives; the dutiful wife/husband, the diligent worker, the stressed out commuter and so on.

By narrative, I mean a set of related stories. We live our lives as an evolving set of lived experiences – or unfolding story. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether we are living the story or the story is living us! Due to on-going life and work pressures and the general busyness we get caught up in, often we flit from narrative to narrative either giving away our power or not realising what power we have to create better story endings for ourselves.

Many of the 1500+ women’s stories that I have collected so far, made this same point – they haven’t had the chance to sit down and collectively reflect or join the dots between all their career experiences to date. They’ve missed patterns and repeating bottlenecks, simply because they haven’t had a chance to listen to their own stories. Worse still, no-one else had listened to their story to help them confirm or validate it.

Which brings me to one of the often forgotten points about stories in general – we learn from others’ stories precisely because stories give us a chance to reflect on lived experience and join the dots in our own lives.

What has all this got to do with chat2lrn?

Stop rambling Fiona I hear you say! There is a point to this, I promise…

I wonder if, in the workplace, we helped others to pay attention to their own stories or narratives, would it make a difference to our workplace relationships and how we collaborate and share knowledge? What If we were able to just slow down or stop for a few minutes each week and ask each other to share a career story or how we overcame a difficult challenge? And no I’m not advocating tree-hugging or therapy for all, I’m just thinking about re-tuning the radio of our lives from busyness to a few moments of quiet reflection. If, according to the 70:20:10 model, we learn most from others, then surely listening to others’ stories has to be a part of that?

If you understand the concept of tacit knowledge, then it is easy to see that we all know more than we usually express. Giving our staff time and space to reflect is the first step on the way to freeing that knowledge. As a final example, I asked a colleague to reflect on what learning meant to them. I was writing a blog on workplace learning and I kind of knew what answer I wanted back (we all do that don’t we?), but I was blown away by her response. Helen is a keen mountaineer and reflected on learning like this:

MountainQuote

How many other rich answers are we missing from our colleagues just because we don’t give them time and space?

Getting more practical

I tried this exercise a while back with a few friends and I was surprised by how much they enjoyed it. They have since tried it in their own workplaces and have told me that it has improved some of their workplace relationships as well as revealing some interesting insights.

lunchtime-story2

Are your ears twitching?

So what do you think? Could you give this a go in the workplace? What might stop you? Join us this Thursday 21st May in chat2lrn to continue the discussion.

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2 thoughts on “Storylistening versus Storytelling?

  1. Great post Fiona and totally agree. As a journalist and someone who helps people tell their stories I agree that listening is so, so important. Why? Because you will get those moments when the lights go on and people talk about the things that really matter to them. These are magic moments (for me anyway). Good questions are important too but you can only know what they are if you are listening.

    • Gosh that is a great insight – ‘you can only know the questions if you are listening’ Thanks for your comment Martin. I’m such an idealist, but I truly think the world would be a better place if we listened to each other more – instead of thinking what we are going to say next 🙂

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