healthcare engagement employee storiesStories are highly effective communication tools, partly because they bring a sense of enjoyment. Whether it’s this morning’s front page headlines or the latest box office hit, stories are the key elements that engage audiences. But how can the act of storytelling be applied to your healthcare organization?

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in an American Hospital Association (AHA) webinar on this topic titled, “The Art and Science of Storytelling to Engage and Inspire Healthcare Teams.” The presenters Dr. Margaret Cary, Founder of the Cary Group Global, and Dr. Tara Satlow, Director of Client Solutions at the Leadership Development Group, shared key storytelling principles that healthcare organizations can utilize to inspire their teams to deliver the best patient care.

Here are my top takeaways from their presentation and how healthcare HR can use them to improve organizational performance.

Stories Can Give Meaning to Initiatives

Human beings are intentional. They seek meaning, value, and creativity, according to the principles of humanistic psychology. Even when we are presented with ambiguous or incomplete information, our brains are hardwired to try to interpret and complete the picture for us. If leaders can help “paint the picture” by sharing a story with their teams, then more initiatives could have a chance of success.

“As human beings, our brain seeks to find meaning in an abstraction,” Dr. Satlow explained during the webinar. “We seek meaning in everything. Stories bind us together around common values.”

Now that you know the type of impact a great story can have in the workplace, how do you get started? Dr. Cary suggests the following three steps:

  1. Start with the end in mind.
  2. Connect to the “why.”
  3. Speak to their emotions.

Stories Can Help Retain Information Better

While stories can help give purpose and motivate your staff, they can also help with learning by improving information retention. “A story sticks in our mind and lasts much longer than a list of facts or information,” Dr. Satlow says. “Stories activate retrospective reflection, a process in which it makes one reflect on our own past experiences.”

Research has shown that stories are effective because they are a good substitute for first-hand experience. “To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge explains in a 2011 article for Psychology Today. “Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses.”

Now that you know the research behind stories and their effectiveness for learning and information retention, you can apply this principle to any training program. Just think about your favorite speaker from the last conference you attended. You may not remember everything from their presentation, but I’m willing to bet you may remember part of a story they shared.

Stories Can Be More Persuasive than Statistics

As much as data and statistics are important for running any business, research has shown that stories are more effective in persuading others. In a 2008 study, researchers Wit, Das, & Vet found that narrative evidence was more effective than statistical evidence in persuading participants to obtain vaccination for hepatitis B. This finding supports the principle mentioned above that stories aid in retaining information.

If your training programs are filled with statistics and data points, remember to weave them into a story. Statistics by themselves will not be as effective, but if you connect them to a story, then there’s a better chance the information will be remembered by your staff. “Share stories of extraordinary patient care and substandard patient care to learn both what goes right and wrong,” Dr. Cary recommends. “They put a face to the care metrics.”

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, healthcare HR has no shortage of initiatives to oversee. By reviewing a few psychology principles, HR can use communication tools such as storytelling to make a positive difference in the success of any initiative.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the PreCheck Blog and has been published here with the author’s permission.


Are you interested in learning more about how you can improve employee engagement in your healthcare organization? Download:

[How-To Guide] Building Employee Engagement: How to Improve Employee Retention and Increase Patient Satisfaction

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Bryan Barajas

About Bryan Barajas

Bryan Barajas is the Marketing Director at PreCheck — a HealthcareSource Certified Integration Partner. PreCheck has helped healthcare employers improve patient safety through comprehensive background screening and employment qualification services since 1993. PreCheck offers a full suite of background screening, compliance, and credentialing solutions designed to help healthcare organizations adhere to the complex regulations governing the industry.