Lisa Greene, Connections Lab
I retired recently which created the domino effect of changing insurance companies for each family member. In the aftermath we experienced this scenario. Walgreens sent an email stating that one of our prescriptions was in. Cost: $975! Before the insurance change, the cost was $11. This set off a flurry of activity: 1. Phone call to Walgreens to find out why; 2. Call to new insurance company to determine why they wouldn’t cover the prescription; 3. Call to the clinic to see if they could prescribe a similar medication that is on the new insurance company’s formulary. Problem solved – or not.
A couple of days later Walgreens sends another email stating that the replacement prescription is in. Cost: $458! Another round of phone calls: 1. Call to Walgreens to find out why; 2. Call to new insurance company to find out why they wouldn’t cover the prescription on their formulary; 3. Call to former insurance company to tell them to remove the name from their rolls (they were listed as the primary insurer); 4. Call to new insurance company to tell them they are now the primary insurer. Problem solved – after seven phone calls (think: looking up phone numbers, waiting on hold, having to retell the story to a new person each time, etc.).
This frustrating tale is one example why we need some type of universal health care or “Healthcare Made Easy” (a brilliant frame coined by the group Women Thinking Out Loud).
Many stories exist around why we need a universal healthcare system. Most are far more more tragic than the one I just shared. The power in this story, however, is that it is mine. I can provide more detail if asked. I can speak to the frustration with authenticity. Its also possible that the listener or reader has experienced something similar therefore allowing them to recall the feelings of frustration they experienced. Or perhaps my story could evoke those feelings even if the listener or reader hasn’t had that experience
Storytelling has been used since humans could communicate with other humans. Our brains have evolved to understand a narrative structure. From Philosophy Talk: “Telling stories is a way to bind us together. When we share the same mythologies or histories, we reinforce our group identity, which improves our ability to pool resources and cooperate with one another. This group cohesion, facilitated by storytelling, may account for the evolutionary success of our ancestors.” (www.philogophytalk.com/blog/evolution-storytelling; accessed 9/2/20)
Stories evoke feelings. Feelings light up brain cells that create connections with other brain cells thus creating a stronger path to a specific thought. From Psychology Today: “Stories take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses.” (www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/positively-media/201101/the-psychological-power-storytelling; accessed 9/2/20) A well-told story will help the listener or reader experience emotions thus creating a stronger connection to the story and to it’s meaning. The more the brain makes the connection to a particular story or thought, the more we remember it.
Speaking of feelings – my story certainly evokes the feeling of frustration. But my initial feeling was fear. Fear because I’ve heard so many stories about insurance companies that won’t cover needed medication. Those stories created such a well-worn path in my brain that my first thought was that the medication wouldn’t be covered and we would have to make the very difficult decision to either come up with $975 a month or talk to the doctor about discontinuing the medication. Neither was possible or acceptable.
Think of a time when you listened to a speech. What resonated with you more – a list of statistics or a well-told story? Effective politicians use stories in their speeches all the time. They may work in facts and logic, but only after they’ve primed your brain with a story or two.
What issues are you passionate about? How do you communicate with others about them? If you don’t already, I would encourage you to have a couple of stories in your back pocket. An effective story will have actors, action, timeline, sensory detail and a call to action. It should evoke feelings. What emotions do you want the listener or reader to feel? Does your story accomplish that? Ideally the story is from your own experience – one that allows you to speak about it with absolute authenticity. Next best is using a story that you’ve heard from someone who has had an experience you think exemplifies your point (ask their permission). If you don’t have those, you can use well-known stories from the news to prime people’s brains to receive your message.
You may not think you’re a natural storyteller. I’ll bet, however, that you’re better than you think you are. When you’re sharing how your day went with your spouse, you’re telling a story. When you’re out with friends, you’re telling and hearing stories. All you have to do is tighten them up and incorporate our Democratic values. You can find more information about that on the Connections Lab website in the Knowledge Center/Framing & Messaging.