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Allcorn, S. Stein, H.F. (2016). Storytelling: An Approach to Knowing Organisations and Their People. Organ. Soc. Dyn., 16(1):19-38.

(2016). Organizational and Social Dynamics, 16(1):19-38

Storytelling: An Approach to Knowing Organisations and Their People

Seth Allcorn, Ph.D., MBA and Howard F. Stein

Stories about organisations and the workplace offer a unique opportunity to qualitatively understand life at work. Stories fill the workplace with information and insights that other forms of communication lack. For instance, stories are used by management to encourage employees to identify with the organisation and its products and services; alternately, employees tell stories about their experience at work that provide listeners with other ways of understanding the workplace. This paper explores the nature of storytelling and listening through a psychoanalytically-informed lens that sheds light on the essence of stories and their meanings within interpersonal space in organisations. In many ways, stories are jointly created by the teller with the support, attention, and participation of the listeners. Listeners in many ways create their own stories in their minds as the story is told, not unlike one's understanding of a disaster broadcast over the radio. Listeners also create a context that can be supportive of the teller or less so. Storytellers, while providing the content, are influenced by the listeners who may listen attentively or interrupt, show enthusiasm or disinterest, or show acceptance or rejection. Storytelling about work and within the workplace is thus an important dimension of organisational life that needs to be better understood. In this paper we present and discuss a single story as a way of illustrating a psychodynamic approach to organisational storytelling and story listening. We also discuss the use of storytelling and story listening as a consultant's tool for helping people in organisations to understand themselves and to be understood, and perhaps even to help them heal.

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