The Peculiar Power of Narratives


Every story has another way of being told. – Krishna

As human beings we naturally create narratives. These are the stories that connect our experiences and can become fodder for the voice that we hear in our own minds. As things shift and sputter within our own work lives, narratives can become very active. The shock of our new lives and the uncertainty of how the future might unfold — is ample fuel to build them.

Narratives can take on many useful forms and can be positive. For example, a smart strategic narrative can fuel an entire organization and a well-crafted career narrative can support career paths. Yet on the flip side, narratives can be negative — causing great distraction. This brand of narrative, can play havoc with our own self-image, our work and our work-based relationships.

Most of us have built a narrative about who we are and how we work. Your team may harbor a set concerning who they are as a group, as well. Ditto for leadership.

This is not a surprise.

Stories are central within our history as human beings. (Interestingly, this tendency to connects the dots, or pattern seek is named narrative bias.) Even while we sleep we seem to weave a story, comprised of the bits and pieces of our day, blended with our unique past. On a basic level, we build narratives to make sense of the world. They are much like shorthand. At their best — narratives can build confidence and power our paths. Yet, at their worst, they can become misleading and destructive.

The problem arises when the narratives get in the way of our own development or our work.

Narratives have become a very present fixture in my work as a coach. This is because it became evident that narratives affect nearly every individual, team and organization. Moreover, the thread of narratives was a common blockade to progress, and can become active when we deal with people, teams and even other organizations.

When the narrative surrounds our own paths, skills & abilities — an entirely new problem can emerge. In this scenario, the stories we tell ourselves or others that other might build about us begin to define us. When you hit a pothole in our paths, these narratives seem to be waiting ringside.

Let’s take advantage of the current pause to identify them — and make an attempt to challenge the negative variety.

Only then can we unravel their power and move forward without them.

Strategy: Narrative Identification

  • Identify a narrative that affects you personally as a contributor. This narrative could speak to your skills/traits/abilities, your work, how you feel about yourself or how you believe others see you.
  • Identify a narrative that affects your team. This can include your team’s internal functioning, and how it behaves with adjacent teams/functions or clients.
  • Try to pinpoint how these narratives developed. This could be rooted in an experience, a conversation or possibly hearsay.
  • Challenge the narrative. This involves challenging the narrative by posing an alternative explanation and possible outcomes.

Our innate need to make sense of the world, can make us susceptible to built narratives. Be ever-vigilant, to recognize if they helping or hurting your work life.

Author’s note: The Core File is now featured at LinkedIn.

Please note: All posts are solely owned by the author. Reprinting (other than re-blogging at another WordPress blog) is by permission only.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, diagnostician & speaker, who explores the value of core stability to empower our work. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

One thought on “The Peculiar Power of Narratives

  1. Marla – a lot of what you’ve said in this blog resonated with me. If you haven’t come across it already, you might enjoy Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, by Epston & White, and Redirect by Timothy Wilson.


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