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Storytelling

In April this year, Netflix released a talk by Researcher-Storyteller Brené Brown on vulnerability and courage. Brown is a Social Scientist from Texas with 5 New York Times Bestsellers and a Ted Talk with over 38 million views under her belt. The Netflix Special is really great, she truly is a wonderful story teller, using personal anecdotes to clearly communicate well constructed arguments.  

I think researchers have a lot to learn from someone who deftly combines social science with great story telling as Brown does. For me, one of the most interesting things she spoke about was a tool for self-reflection: ‘The story I’m telling myself is…’ Let me explain:

As you go about your life, your mind is constantly jumping to conclusions. Brown argues that as humans we rely on constructing narratives in order to understand the world, in other words, we effectively tell ourselves stories about what we see, hear and experience so that it makes sense to us.

Brown encourages us to recognise that in any given situation you’re telling yourself a story about what you’re experiencing. This then helps you to understand that your perception of what’s happening probably differs from those around you.

This device is particularly helpful for resolving miscommunications. Your friend didn’t reply to the text you sent about meeting up soon? The story you tell yourself might be that they don’t want to see you and don’t care about your friendship, but the story they’re telling themselves might be that they’re too busy to reply right now and need to check their diary because it’s really important they make time to see you.

I think this tool is also interesting for us as researchers, as it recognises that humans are complex beings, and the stories they’re telling themselves can shift and change easily depending on context and how they’re feeling. This is something we need to understand and appreciate when devising methodologies and talking to individuals during research projects.

It’s also important because as researchers we need to develop a consistent story based on the data we’ve amassed during a project. When we work together, ‘the stories we tell ourselves’ about the findings might be slightly different, so part of our analysis and write up is synthesising this and ensuring the stories we hone are authentic and constructive. 

Finally, it can help us when we’re debriefing projects in terms of how we connect with our clients. Thinking about the ‘story they’re telling themselves’ about their brand, product or service, and reflecting on how our research findings will impact upon it. This can help us tell our story in a way that will resonate with our clients, ensuring they get as much from it as possible.

So in summary, I’ve learnt a lot that can help me at work, and I’ve got something to comfort myself with when my friends don’t text me back!

Brené Brown – Call to Courage available on Netflix 


Lucy Foylan