Are you a good storyteller? Some people just are. At work, we all tell stories, all the time. The business stories managers tell help shape our reality in the workplace.

Humans are wired to create and tell stories. Our brains continuously look for explanations to the events around us. Whatever we encounter, whether random or planned, forces our minds to impose a chronology and apply cause-and-effect logic.

“We automatically, and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us, and ‘stuff just happens’ is no explanation,” according to psychologist Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Centre for Anthropology & Mind.

For managers, storytelling is an important way of resolving conflicts, addressing issues, and facing challenges. Managers use narratives to deal with conflicts when direct action is inadvisable or impossible.

In a group discussion a process of collective narration can help influence others and unify the group by linking the past to the future. In such discussions, managers transform problems, requests, and issues into stories.

We use business stories to find meaning amid chaos. This is how we organize and give context to our experiences. Facts are meaningless until we create a story around them. As business consultant Annette Simmons writes in The Story Factor (Basic Books, 2006), “People don’t need new facts—they need a new story.” In most cases, these stories matter more than what actually happens.

We tell business stories constantly, even when we’re unaware of doing so. They reflect issues with our work, family, overall happiness, and personal strengths and weaknesses. Each story has a theme, hero, villain and conflict, and the way we communicate it involves both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Because we alone craft our stories, we may as well make them as inspiring as possible, suggest leadership coach Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor Benjamin Zander, authors of The Art of Possibility (Harvard Business School Press, 2000).

Consequences of Negative Stories

Some of our internal stories are so tragically inaccurate that they lead to stress and burnout:

  • “It’s a competitive, cutthroat world out there.”
  • “If I don’t look out for No. 1, nobody else will.”
  • “The world is moving too fast for me these days.”
  • “I’d love to spend time with my family, but I have to work.”
  • “If I’m not the first person at work and the last to leave, I’ll be viewed as a slacker.”
  • “I’d exercise and eat better, if only I wasn’t so busy.”
  • “I’m smarter than most people at work, so I don’t need to prepare, train or worry.”

A USA Today survey reveals that one in six employees is so overworked that he/she doesn’t use up allotted annual vacation time (even though Americans receive the fewest vacation days in the industrialized world).

Another survey shows:

  • 34% of workers report that they have no downtime at work.
  • 32% eat lunch while working.
  • 32% never leave the building until they head home.

Behind each of these behaviors is a work story people tell to themselves, such as “I’m too busy,” “I’ll be recognized if I can get this done faster, better, sooner.”

What if you could change your stories? What would be the results on your happiness and stress levels? In the work I do with clients, we find better stories, to create better outcomes.

How can you reframe your stories so they give you energy instead of depleting you?