The Connecting Power of Stories

The art of story, or storytelling, has been used for centuries to pass down ideas, values and certain aspects of culture to future generations. As humans, while our experiences can be are varied — a common thread connects us all. Our human existence holds universal themes that permeate time and space; birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.

Stories have the ability to build connection among people, tap into the mysteries of human emotion, and explain facets of human experiences. From the stories that your grandmother told you about her childhood — to a sentimental toast given at a wedding — to two people sharing past experiences over first date butterflies, stories help to give root to connection and allows insight into experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes.

A few years ago, I was facilitating a high-energy training on reflective practice. I was passionate and expressive and I weaved seamlessly throughout the room delivering my content. The audience was captivated, and I was on fire! As I proceeded to make my way to the front of the room, I failed to see a cord that was covered by masking tape. Not only did I stumble over the cord, but I inadvertently executed a three-point turn and axel jump into the air which cleared an entire table of materials, and landed me full force on my derrière. Scattered, I stood up and straightened my jacket and glanced up to see the entire room glaring at me. The tension of a humiliating moment had come to a climax. Without skipping a beat, I shrugged it off and assured them: “It’s okay to laugh.” Without hesitation, the entire room erupted with laughter which seemed to last several minutes.

Once the room regained equilibrium, participants began sharing stories about their equally embarrassing moments. A deep and reflective conversation ensued which connected us in a way that wasn’t intended but could not have been more powerful. In an instant, we were a room full of imperfect, connected people. Together, we used the power of story to strengthen what we were exploring regarding growing and rising stronger from personal and professional mishaps.

Although sharing stories can create great impact while in front of an audience, it can also be a powerful tool in connecting with others on a more intimate basis. Sharing stories of any kind — whether it’s sharing some exciting news to the barista at the local coffee shop, or recounting a conflict situation to a trusted person requires a certain level of vulnerability. Vulnerability means that you are willing to take the mask off and share both the brilliant aspects of yourself as well as those all too human aspects of yourself that you may not be excited to share.

Brené Brown, a well-known researcher and storyteller (and personal hero) has done extensive work on vulnerability, suggests that “vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.” By allowing the nuance of our experiences to be seen through the stories we share, we uncover the tools for building authentic connections with others. We somehow know that we are not alone.

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”
~Brené Brown

Stories give meaning to our lives and create a mosaic of our past experiences that color who we are. They are also treasures we share with others that reveal our own unique perspective of the world. By sharing your stories, you give silent permission for others to share theirs, and you begin to build bridges of empathy that have the potential to change our places of work, our families, and our relationships.

To recap, here are four reasons stories have such great connecting power:

· Sharing personal experiences in the form of a story makes you more relatable.

· Stories can be used to reveal human experiences and emotion that facilitate connection.

· Stories give others insight into your journey, which is necessary in building authentic relationships.

· By sharing your personal stories, you give others permission to do the same.

The next time you have an opportunity to share an aspect of what life looks like through your eyes, I challenge you to do it. Whether it’s a client or a sibling, a new flame or a stranger you meet in the grocery line, why not share one of your stories? You never know how the connecting power of a story may shift the dynamic of a relationship in a meaningful way.

Nicole Edwards, CPLP® is a speaker and facilitator, dedicated to empowering people to challenge limiting perceptions that stand in the way of personal and professional success. Click here to see her TEDx talk called In Your Eyes.