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Story-telling to change ways of thinking

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Ways of thinking can stand in the way of a solution. Story-telling can change the way of thinking and understanding the other party.

Solutions summary

Many facilitators use stories (parabels, traditional tales, experiences with situations that were similar and other narratives) to help overcome barriers. They can be used to make the parties:
  • Understand how the other party feels.
  • See that many people have the same problem. That tensions between people are part of human nature.
  • Think about their own situation. What are their options?
  • Think about the situation of the others involved.
  • Understand the disadvantages of quarreling, fighting and other adversarial behavior.
  • Understand that treating the other person equal has positive effects.
  • Understand that cooperation is difficult, but better than each doing what they think is right. 
  • Accept that there is more than one truth.
  • Show that outcomes are not necessarily a gain for one party and a loss for the other. Outcomes can be valuable and fair for all parties involved.
Each society or community has its own stories that can be used. These might be religious stories about the morals of disputes and the need to find solutions.  Below are some examples of good stories.

Local solution: How to use Stories to change Views or Attitudes


Tell the story of the “orange”:
Two parties want the same orange and there is disagreement.  By asking about the underlying significance of the orange for both parties, it appears that one wants to make marmalade and the peel of the orange is required, while the other only appears to want the juice. There is actually no adverse interest in these parties .... They can both get what they want.


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Local solution: Using stories

If parties have difficulty to reflect on their position, using a tale or poem can help them to change their perception. An example story is: The poem on “Sibling relying on the soil while women supporting men”  “domestic violence cases” story of two birds catching fishes together” they fight for a fish caught from a lack. Because of the fighting, the two birds lost their fish. This story can help people to understand that if they united they would obtain a better result than fighting.

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Evidence from practice

Stories to change views: In Egypt, facilitators sometimes use stories in domestic violence cases. These stories can demonstrates how the process of compromise can help parties maintain a relationship and also how women have to be respected as well as men.

Stories to develop commitment: In Cambodia they use a story about two crows who are fighting over fish caught in a river. Because of the fighting they both lose the fish. This story helps people see that if they work together they can get a better outcome.

Evidence from literature

  • Stories support the moral imagination and promote empathy  between people

Martha Nussbaum (1999) ' The Fragility of Goodness' 

  • Interesting stories significantly change attitude and behaviour
Neustadt, R. and E. May (1986). Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-makers. New York, Free Press. Monroe, M. (1991). The Effect of Interesting Environmental Stories on Knowledge and Action-Taking Attitudes. Michigan, University of Michigan. Doctoral Dissertation.
  • Personally engaging information is more easily recalled than abstract general material, even where the abstract material is clearer in expressing the message.
Hidi, S. and W. Baird (1988). "Strategies for Increasing Text-based interest and students' Recall of Expository Texts." Reading Research Quarterly 23(4): 465-483.
  • Communication through stories takes advantage of the way people process information
Kearney, A. R. (1994). "Understanding global change: A cognitive perspective on communicating through stories." Climatic Change 27(4): 419-441.
  • Narratological analysis, metaphorical analysis, and re-positioning stories: The idea of using narrative, or stories, as a way to get people “unstuck” from conflict situations runs through many of the interviews.
What We Don’t Know Can Help Us: Eliciting Out-of-Discipline knowledge for Work with Intractable Conflicts Jennifer S. Goldman,  Peter T. Coleman Columbia University 2003 -2010 to download: click here.
See for the barriers in thinking that are relevant in conflict resolution: Mnookin et al. Barriers to conflict resolution, 1995. Conflict resolution handbooks Deutsch and Moffitt et al.

Story-telling to change ways of thinking

by admin on March 16, 2011

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