Creating More Authentic Workplaces
When an executive at jewelry-maker Alex and Ani asked Dennis Rebelo for advice on how she could develop a better rapport with one of her managers, he suggested she tell the manager a story.
But not just any random story, like the kind that employees typically share around a water cooler. The story needed to resonate. He suggested she tell the manager about a time when she once faced a sales challenge that the manager was experiencing now, and discuss how she overcame it. This kind of story, Dennis told the executive, would convey a shared experience that would bring the two together in understanding.
His advice worked, leading to a meaningful conversation about the obstacles the manager was facing.
“People aren’t machines,” said Dennis, who is president of the Alex and Ani University Professional Development Center and a doctoral candidate in organizational systems at Saybrook University. “They’re not part of the big machine at work. That kind of thinking strips away their vitality. People are yearning to belong to an organization that is meaning making and actually stands for something that can be linked to who they are. It’s a hollow space to be in when you’re performing a function with no meaning.”
Storytelling helps foster that, Dennis noted, and developing a better understanding of the power of storytelling is what brought him to Saybrook in 2009.
For eight years, Dennis had been offering executive coaching sessions, employee training and development workshops, and business and developing consulting to clients through his firm, University Business Consultants, LLC. The courses and workshops Dennis taught emphasized the human side of business and helped leaders craft stories that could “increase their effectiveness during key moments,” Dennis said.
But Dennis wanted to develop a broader understanding of storytelling and its role in organizational culture and corporate environments, which he was able to do at Saybrook working closely with instructors such as Dr. Amedeo Giorgi, a leading researcher in the field of phenomenology.
“I was able to take every phenomenology class Amedeo offered,” Dennis said. “I kept jumping into them. I was interested in how someone’s lived experiences influence story; how you could you understand the science of story. Where else could I have received such insight and practice?”
Dennis’ graduate studies in phenomenology at Saybrook have led him to present his research in the areas of self-identity, story, and effective relationship building at work at several conferences, including the International Human Science Research Conference in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he spoke about "Peak Storytelling" and the leader's changing role as primary storyteller at a TEDx event held in his native Providence, R.I.
Today, Dennis incorporates much of his Saybrook studies into the curriculum he teaches at the Alex and Ani University Professional Development Center. He tells prospective Saybrook students to consider the complexity of being authentic in the workplace and ask themselves if they want help make authentic workplaces a reality.
“If you do,” Dennis said, “look into Saybrook.”