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Why stories matter

Your story matters 725

We’ve been telling stories since the beginning of time. Human beings are wired for storytelling. Long before we could write, long before the printing press was invented, and long before the internet and social media exploded into our lives, telling stories was the way we communicated with each other. It was how we passed on information, how we learned and how we survived and thrived.

Every culture depends on storytelling. In Gaelic culture the Seanchaí was the storyteller employed by the kings and chieftains. He had great wisdom and power in Gaelic society and as a result was respected by everyone. Today, the stories and fairytales we read to children contain vital moral messages e.g. Don’t judge a book by its cover (Beauty and the Beast), Beware of strangers (Little Red Riding Hood). Aesop’s fables and Christian parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son all carry powerful messages in the form of a story.

Stories are an important part of social change because they have the power to shape the way that people think and feel about their world. Stories provide social proof that behaviour change is happening.

Stories bring us together

Stories are the currency of human connections. Statistics and lists of facts communicate information and raise awareness. However, stories communicate meaning and emotion, which motivate people to act. Stories have a way of connecting with our hearts and our heads in a way that bullet points don’t. When was the last time you told someone about a great power point presentation? I never have. But how many times have you told your friends a story you heard? If you’re like me, you do this a lot.

Throughout time, stories have the power to influence great social changes. Stories of boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, mass meetings and marches enable others to see what is possible, to imagine a different future.

Through Values in Action, our health service colleagues have translated our values into nine specific behaviours, and started a movement to make sure that they are not just words, but become the core of our health service culture. That’s imagining a different future.

Did you know stories are 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone?

Source: Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing, Stanford Graduate School

Stories in the Health Service

We already tell stories in the Health Service. Many of our information campaigns use stories. The highly successful QUIT campaign featured Gerry Collins telling the story of his cancer diagnosis. What motivates a terminally ill man with no connection to the Health Service to share his story? Gerry told his story because he knew that it had the power to make a difference. It had the power to encourage people to change their behaviour and stop smoking.

Gerry Collins, 1957-2014

When the fact that one in two of us will die from a tobacco-related disease is delivered in the form of Gerry’s story, it connects with the emotional side of our brain. We start to empathise with Gerry and his family. We feel an emotional connection. We relate to him. The QUIT campaign continues to feature stories from people who’ve successfully given up smoking. Why? Because these stories inspire and empower others to quit.

Patients, service users and their families share stories about how we cared for them when they thank us. The impact those “thank you” letters and cards have on us cannot be underestimated.

What makes a good story?

Whether it’s a fairy-tale, a Disney film or the story you just heard on your tea break, all stories have common ingredients. These are;

Situation: What’s going on, what’s the problem or challenge? Where is it happening and who is involved?

Action: A short explanation of what happened, who did what.

Outcome: What was the result or impact? What was the benefit or change?

Reflection: How did this impact on the person’s experience? What did you learn? What difference did it make? How could we all do more of this?

Values in Action Story wheel

Your story matters

In Values in Action, a story is simply an everyday example that shows our behaviours being lived. They are the stories about what happens in the health service every day that we can all relate to. They are stories about what you did or what you saw others doing, and the difference it made. We’re not looking for stories about health superheroes, because we just can’t relate to them. We find it easier to relate to people like us and what they do.

The stories I’ve heard from Champions have made me laugh and cry. They’ve helped me appreciate the level of care my colleagues provide. They paint a picture of how my colleagues support each other. Mostly, I’ve realised that they are simply great examples of our colleagues living our behaviours. They show me the difference that living our nine behaviours can make to building a health service culture we can all be proud of.

Stories live but only if you tell them

Stories shine a light on where and how our good culture is practiced. They show us how we look after ourselves, how we interact with our colleagues, how we treat patients and service users all combine to make the health service a better place for staff, patients and service users.  Stories change the way we feel. Stories change the way we think. Stories change the way we behave. When we share our stories we learn about what is happening in the health service and what is possible when more people live the nine behaviours.  Think how much impact stories about our behaviours could have when we share them with our colleagues. How our colleagues, patients and service users feel about the health service is determined by the stories we tell.

We all tell stories all the time. They are the conversations we have at the school gate, in the canteen at work, in the car park, at the shop or at the match. How many times have you passed on a story you heard? We do this so naturally that we don’t even see it as storytelling.

The most important thing to remember is how your stories can impact on our colleagues. Your stories have the power to make others think about how they’re behaving and what they can do to improve our workplaces for our colleagues and to deliver better experiences to those who use the health service and their families.

If you want to learn about a culture

Storytelling is not new, we are all storytellers.

Read our Values in Action stories to see how your colleagues are building the culture of the health service by living the nine behaviours.

Share your stories by emailing us info.valuesinaction@hse.ie

The End

Sandra Eaton, Values in Action @sandraeaton2013