Story Telling and the “Internal Control Switch”

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Have you read Tell Me a Story: Why Stories are Essential to Effective Safety Training by Elaine T. Cullen and Albert H. Fein? It’s a free publication from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The work of Cullen and Fein validates the strength of story telling as a vital component in adult learning. Although the focus of this publication is worker safety in the mining industry, the following quote can be applied to adult learners universally;  

Humans are storytellers. Stories have been used throughout history to entertain, to inform, to provide a sense of inclusiveness in the narrative of mankind. Stories work at a very different level than pure informa­tion-sharing because they deal not just with rational thought, but also with how we feel about what we have heard. Stories are able to move beyond the barriers people create, to touch not just our minds, but our hearts.

Trying to change another person’s behavior permanently (one of the primary objectives of safety training) without obtain­ing their buy-in is impossible. It is true that people will change their behaviors to gener­ally comply with mandated rules when they must (when the supervisor or the inspector is watching, for example), but when nobody is around to monitor their behavior, they often revert to how things have always been done and how their occupational culture expects them to behave, particularly if those man­dates are in conflict with culturally expected behaviors. To openly go up against a tradi­tional norm, people have to be convinced that the new behavior is a better choice and that the choice to follow it is their choice.  

The key for a safety trainer, then, is to find the internal control switch in each trainee that responds to the “why should I care about this information?” question and provides the answer “because it makes sense for me to care. It may save my life some day.” Stories have the ability to do this.  

Are you finding the “internal control switch” for your target audience? Are you giving them what they need to convince themselves that your message is relevant? I never tire of this subject.

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This entry was posted in Adult Learning, Cultural Anthropology, Mining, Safety, Story Telling, Teaching, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

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