Storytelling is about relationship


STORYTELLING: A TOOL AND A DIFFERENT APPROACH FOR MEDIATION AND NEGOTIATION
I recently had the opportunity to invite one of the most talented and experienced storyteller of the world to hold a seminar in Milan for the Association which I represent: In Media. Here's a little story of what happened and some thoughts about it that I dared to put into words.

When I started organizing the Seminar “The voice of Justice- storytelling for mediation and negotiation” which took place in Milan last 30th October with Inno Sorsy (UK), I couldn’t help but notice other’s people reaction to to the word “storytelling”.  I could almost read into their minds: what is that?
The general reaction was something between disappointment and sincere concern: are you sure that you want to go on with this? What this once-upon-a-time –thing  has to do with lawyering and mediation?
The best explanation starts directly from Inno Sorsy, actress, musician, storyteller and international trainer who opened the seminar telling her own story.



She comes from Ghana, in west Africa. When she was growing up, she had her parents, of course, looking after her, but the ones that she really listened to were her grandparents. Apparently, Inno’s grandparents weren’t screaming and shouting and threatening. They were dealing with the discipline in a slightly different way. Therefore if she had done something terrible, or if she misbehaved in an unacceptable manner, then her grandmother or grandfather  would find the time to tell her a little story and finally the main character in the story would have done something similar to what she had done. Within the story would come all the consequences of these actions. So Inno’s  grandparents and Inno herself didn’t talk about it anymore, but in her mind she started to think about what might happen to her next time she  did it. And so she explained that it wasn’t so much “the moral of the story is..” On the contrary, she was told the story and then she thought about it.
So, when she came to England she was unpleasantly surprised to hear that stories were to make children go to sleep. Because that was not her experience. And all the stories ended with “and the moral of the story is…” and she learnt much later that many stories were manipulated and given a very simple moral which makes you feel  as if you had understood.
And this takes away the real nourishment of the stories, because what are the stories really? 
  • They are metaphors which are touching different aspects of humanity whether it be simple behavior or self development. 
  • Stories  waken up your senses and your thinking. That’s what stories are about.
  • Stories and storytelling are not about information, they are about relationship. 


If you are looking for information, you can look up in the internet, or in a book, in a dictionary, if that is the case. But if you are trying to create value, if you are trying to establish a common ground for communication, if you are trying to solve something, a situation that appears to be unbelievably complex, you do not only need information and a good way to deal with it, you also need a different approach and you do need collaboration, whatever this word means.
For starters, storytelling is something which enables you to create a common bases to connect with someone else, would it be a counterpart or the parties at a mediation table. Everyone is capable of listening to a story, everyone has listened to one at least once in a lifetime. Stories are something familiar, something we were able to deal with from our earliest days, regardless of our cultural background.
Secondly, the oral tradition of every country in the world has stories representing in different ways the very same characteristics and which develop the very same patterns. From Todorov, to the modern neuroscientists, we already learnt that stories have very much to do  with how we think, how we develop a system of values, how we perceive the world.
Then, stories are something that you share, something on which collaboration is simple and instantaneous. The act of telling a story creates a relationship, be it with the person in front of you or with the tradition where the story originated. Storytelling is something naturally building bridges between counterparts, over any impasse or difficult conversation.
If you have to change your or other’s standpoints, storytelling is a good way to start. If you cannot negotiate directly because of the high level of conflict, you can start telling a story, or asking for one.
In extremely and excessively simple terms we could say that if we pick up the right story at a certain point during a mediation or a negotiation, we will be able to govern the process through a lateral thinking system. In addition to that, if we are able not only to mention the right story at the right time, but also to tell it with the right words, the right body language and, of course, with a bit of humour this will enhance the whole process to a superior level of communication, allowing a better mediation or negotiation.
Storytelling is a complex performance, involving many different skills and abilities. It takes time to really appreciate its full potential because you do not only need to get familiar with a good amount of stories, and with their ways to "twist" your straight, cartesian, cause-effect, linear way of thinking but you do also need  to let the stories spontaneoulsy emerge and lead the way.
Storytelling is a valuable tool or rather a valuable complex skill for any mediator and negotiator. Its beneficial effects go far beyond any rational and predictable expectations.




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