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How to Leverage Storytelling to Increase Engagement at Work

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Storytelling: how can it help engage individuals in your company?

In functional storytelling, you can leverage your communication to trigger certain hormones and neurotransmitters in your listeners—a unique and subtle way of engaging them in your story.

In this breakdown of functional storytelling, we’ll be taking advice from David JR Phillips’ fascinating and informative TEDx Talk, in which he describes how storytelling works on a chemical level.

Here are some fascinating facts about storytelling, chemicals, and the brain—and how to leverage that information in your own business.

Everyone and Everything has a Story

Human beings respond to stories—and everyone in a business has a unique story of their own to tell. By using the power of personal and unique anecdotes in a business setting, you can create unique value for colleagues, staff, and supervisors at your company. But how do you optimize storytelling to your advantage? Here are four ways to work with neurotransmitters to take advantage of functional storytelling:

1. Avoid engaging with cortisol and adrenaline: keep stress out of stories

Cortisol and adrenaline are stimulated by stress and unpleasant situations. People who have an excess of these hormones exhibit symptoms of intolerance, irritability, lack of creativity, and impaired memory.

Obviously, if you want people to engage in a useful and positive way, you want to avoid triggering cortisol and adrenaline. These are a result of people feeling like they’re under attack or under stress, which are sub-optimal conditions for learning, team-building, and engaging others.

2. Work with the power of dopamine: tell exciting stories

Dopamine is an extremely powerful chemical because it increases focus and motivation. Because people are more focused, they’re going to remember things better and be more engaged with the topic.

Dopamine is created inside the brain by elements of powerful storytelling. By building suspense, incorporating cliff-hangers, and withholding key information for powerful moments, it’s possible to trigger this effect in listeners.

3. Work with the power of oxytocin: tell human stories

The hormone oxytocin makes people more generous and trusting. It creates a bond between people and conjures feelings of warmth. In storytelling, oxytocin is triggered by human stories in which listeners are asked to conjure empathy for characters. Stories where the teller appeals to the listener’s human side and encourages them to feel for their fellow human being.

To leverage the power of oxytocin, make sure that you’re building character into your stories and engaging with your listeners on an emotional, as opposed to merely analytical, level.

4. Work with the power of endorphins: tell funny stories

First of all, everyone loves to laugh. What you might not know is that laughter is associated with increased levels of endorphins in the brain. When people experience endorphins in the brain, they’re more creative, relaxed, and at ease. It’s suddenly easier to think of solutions to problems.

Like dopamine, endorphins trigger deeper focus in the human brain. How do you tap into endorphins? Make people laugh. Tell funny stories. Engage them on a level where they’re actually enjoying and getting value out of the content.

Anyone can tell a good story. Think about it: with our range of human experiences, we all know how to tell a story with drama to stimulate dopamine production. Everyone has a character-driven story that can help trigger oxytocin. And if you’ve ever incorporated a joke into your workflow, you already know you can work with endorphins.

Next time you have a big presentation at work or need to get a point across to colleagues, leverage the power of functional storytelling.


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