Academic journal article Research and Theory for Nursing Practice

The Power of Narratives

Academic journal article Research and Theory for Nursing Practice

The Power of Narratives

Article excerpt

Often leaders face the challenge of how to motivate organizational and team members. These challenges can deal with a wide range of organizational situations ranging from embracing change to continuing to remain true to the organization's vision and mission in the face of competing demands. This is especially true in today's climate of diminishing resources, market shortages for nurses and other health personnel, and increased accountability to the constituents we serve. One strategy used increasingly is that of narratives, or telling a story, as a means to compel individuals to think and behave in ways that will contribute to the collective good, to motivate individuals in challenging situations, or to provide a better understanding about a complex situation. The use of narratives has been identified as a powerful strategy that can contribute potentially to improved quality of health care as well as to the development of new knowledge.

The use of narrative analysis or interpretive inquiry as a research method for the development of new knowledge is one that is familiar to nurses. In the world of science, empirical knowledge or a positivist approach is seen as an attempt to illuminate the universally true by transcending the particular; narrative inquiry is seen as an attempt to develop knowledge by revealing the particular (lieblich, TuvalMashiach, & Zilber, 1998). In narrative analysis, the object is the story itself, why it was told in that particular way, what words were chosen, and what significance and meaning were attached to the story (Sakalys, 2003; Sandelowski, 1991). This approach to "ways of knowing" is one that has a long tradition in nursing as well as the social and behavioral sciences.

What may be a new application is the use of narratives in practice and organizational settings. The use of stories, or narratives, was described more than 2,000 years ago by Aristotle. Through the ages, stories have been used as a technique to illustrate a moral, to demonstrate how experiences have produced positive or negative outcomes, and to entertain. Every culture has its fairy tales, fables, and oral traditions that are transmitted from one generation to another. This powerful technique has been adopted more recently by organizations, clinicians, and policy makers as a strategy to galvanize efforts in a way that data and a PowerPoint presentation cannot. Narratives give a human component to data in a way that helps us relate to situations with empathy and motivation (Denning, 2004).

Frequently we hear someone say "tell me your story" when they meet or are focused around a particular issue. By definition, a narrative or story is an account of an individual's experiences to make sense of events or actions in their life. It provides a structure for reflection that places key events in the context of the human experience. When we hear someone's story, we have a better understanding ofthat person as an individual, the experience they have had, and the effect it has had on them. It provides us with an opportunity to know much more about someone than what we see or what we may have read about them.

In an organizational setting, stories can provide a method to transmit values, to help inform coworkers about lessons learned, and to motivate organizational members around challenging issues that they face together. These stories serve an important purpose in the organization, ranging from transmitting the organization's vision or goals to the impact that the organization, such as a hospital, has had on the lives of patients and families who have received care from its members (Yoder-Wise & Kowalski, 2003). …

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