How to Use Storytelling to Influence People

Source: HRZone, 2nd August 2013

“A man found a cocoon for a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared stuck.

The man decided to help the butterfly and with a pair of scissors he cut open the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But something was strange. The butterfly had a swollen body and shrivelled wings. The man watched the butterfly expecting it to take on its correct proportions. But nothing changed.

The butterfly stayed the same. It was never able to fly. In his kindness and haste the man did not realise that the butterfly’s struggle to get through the small opening of the cocoon is nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight.

When we coach and teach others it is helpful to recognise when people need to do things for themselves. Sometimes the struggle makes all the difference.

This is one of our favourite stories we use when leading workshops. We use stories to pass on ideas and messages in a way which talks to the unconscious and well as the conscious mind. We know we have got it right when the story is repeated back to us by the next group of participants. Stories have many characteristics in common. They are also universal. Every culture uses stories to pass on knowledge and wisdom. It is not surprising therefore that neuroscience is beginning to find that our brain reacts to a story in a particular way, a way that is not seen when it just receives information from something like a PowerPoint presentation.

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