chapter  1
17 Pages

Narrative Appreciation

This book encourages appreciation of stories in and about workplaces. It is a guide for more fully grasping the power of stories to enrich organization members’ lives, affect activities, and enable better sensemaking. It will teach readers how better to evaluate the stories they hear and how to construct such stories themselves. We draw attention to everything from fully developed, dramatic narratives, such as biographies of famous leaders or histories of organizations, to smaller-scale stories told around the coffee pot common in daily work interaction, and much in between. In line with Hayden White’s (1987, p. 1) statement above, we argue that coming

to know organizations and what goes on in them without focusing on narratives would be unproductive. Further, efforts to treat narratives in organizations as trivial or peripheral would be misguided. Stories abound in workplaces, and our lives would be strange and bland without them. As we tune into the stories people tell, read about workplaces and the lives that go on in and around them, take stories from the media with us to work and tell co-workers about our experiences, we equip ourselves to understand what is going on and, sometimes, to make better responses to the circumstances we face at work and in our lives beyond. Although few people, such as comedians, make their living entirely with stories well told, others, such as ministers, salespersons, and teachers, tell stories as a regular feature of their workdays. We all listen to and tell stories. Sales presentations, briefings, reports, recruitment interviews, press releases, consultations, carpools, team meetings, hallway conversations, lunch breaks, and retirement ceremonies are all common sites for workplace storytelling.

Readers might have heard of music appreciation, but never thought about narrative appreciation. In the former, people learn to apply music theory about such concepts as melody, rhythm, chord progressions, and harmony, plus knowledge of musical genres and styles, to performances in which they participate through listening or performing. Some people who learn to better appreciate music do so for professional reasons; others, to deepen their enjoyment. Narrative appreciation is analogous to music appreciation in that it brings theoretical concepts from narratology to bear on how people experience and assess stories. Readers will be introduced to quite a large number of such concepts in this book, such as action, sequence, irony, plot, and complication. If readers are able to understand and use such concepts, we hope they will benefit both professionally and personally. They will be equipped to understand more about workplaces and the lives of their occupants, to get a better grasp of challenges and opportunities at work, to connect with fellow employees or others in the same profession, to exercise leadership, or to interact more effectively with customers. It is also possible simply to appreciate workplace narratives because they are everywhere around us, highly varied and sometimes even beautiful.