Story colleague Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, emailed me the other day about his latest research findings about effective story endings for businesses. Kendall, besides being a fabulous professional storyteller, is not only a West Point graduate, but also a scientist. I am thrilled that we have Kendall in the community doing scientific research on storytelling, and continuing to collect and share other’s scientific findings on storytelling.
Kendall emailed me after reading my recently released book Business Storytelling for Dummies, co-authored with Lori Silverman. In the book we tried to convey that every story needs some sort of resolution. But it is not a requirement that the resolution always be positive. That point did not come across strongly enough, which Kendall pointed out. And even better — he shared with me some of his latest research findings about this whole issue. Yeah!
The research is not yet published, so this is a preview of their discoveries. Here is our brief email exchange where Kendall explains the latest info about biz story endings:
Congratulations. I have read it and am impressed. Tons of solid and practical advice and guidance.Well done! Let me, however, contradict of couple of statements you make by sharing the highlights of some of our new research results that I will publish this coming summer.You say several times—as is the conventional wisdom—not to end stories with a downer, with a negative ending. Certainly if your goal is entertainment, that’s true. If your goal is to leave listeners feeling good, also true. However, if your goal is to influence (create a change in beliefs, values, attitudes, and behavior), if you want listeners to act, to do something, then our lab experiments (linked to other ongoing research) says that it is not.We found that positive story resolutions (evaluated from the viewpoint of the audience’s identity character) might—might—influence some unspecified future behavior, but do not drive immediate and near term actions and behavioral shifts. Positive resolution stories can modify values, beliefs, and attitudes, and can serve as role models for those unspecified future events (if a memory of the story is triggered during that event). But they do not tend to alter near term behavior. It’s as if the audience concludes, “I’ll keep that story in mind for later. But for now, I a feeling good and will continue to do just what I have always done.”Conversely, the more negative (distressing, unacceptable, despicable, enraging, etc.) the story’s resolution is for the audience’s identity character, the greater the tendency for that audience members to take immediate action (donate, protest, write letters, boycott, etc.). It is as if they feel driven to correct the situation and bring the story to a satisfactory ending. Emotionally negative story resolutions are incredibly powerful and effective as drivers of immediate (short term) behavioral shifts.Thus, we found that it is relatively easy to manipulate the resolution point of a story and, thereby, also affect either desired component of audience response—immediate behavioral response or long-term attitudinal and belief shift. Story users, then, need to decide what they want to achieve by telling a specific story to a specific audience and should adjust the story accordingly.I’ll get the more detailed description to you once I write it up.All My Best,Kendall
Thank you so much for writing and I’m glad that overall you like the book. And I so appreciate you sharing with me your latest research! It’s fascinating. My personal goal with the book was to convey that resolution is important, and that need not be a positive one. Looks like that didn’t come across as I would have liked.Nevertheless, I would love to write a blog where I may share your comments here. I think it would be a fantastic piece. I love what you wrote and people should know about it. Would that be OK with you? Or do you want to write a bit more and add some additional thoughts?
Ciao,KDKaren Dietz, PhDJust Story ItJoin 13,800+ followers on my globally ranked curated content on business storytellingAnd check out my recent TEDx talk on the power of story listening
You may certainly share it out now as long as you include that it is still unpublished research and say that it is research I conducted and that I will publish by this summer—both in article and in book form.Thanks,Kendall
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