3 Ways to Avoid the “Single Story”

Public relations is all about storytelling. If we aren’t creating awareness or framing conversations, we’re busy questioning and seeking out answers in preparation to do one or the other. Why not bring this same frame of mind to our personal and professional interactions?  

We are constantly surrounded by people who are different from us. While there is much to be learned from others based on our differences, what truly unites us are the commonalities: namely, the desire to be understood, respected and appreciated by those around us.

In a 2009 TED Talk delivered by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we learn of what she calls “the danger of a single story” — knowing only one piece of what makes a person who they are and subsequently passing judgement or making assumptions based on only that information.

“Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become” said .

Here are three key ways to avoid the dangerous single story when building and maintaining personal and professional relationships.

Read. Listen. Absorb.

Courtesy of giphy.com.
Courtesy of giphy.com.

In the TED Talk, it is clear that reading has always been an important part of life for Adichie. Reading is what brought her face-to-face with the concept of a single story. Adichie says what is dangerous about the single story is not the fact that it exists, but the way in which we fall victim to ignorance.  

The knowledge gained from reading multiple stories could prove valuable in the most unexpected of times, from an invitation to the after dinner politics talk at a family holiday or a random conversation with someone waiting to board their next flight.

Embrace your own identity.

When I think of what others may perceive as my single story, I am reminded of my elevator pitch. During my pitch I share my name, major, university and the industry I’d like to work in — but that’s it.

I am more than a thirty second introduction, and so is every single person I’ve ever met. This fact is difficult to remember when we are constantly shaking new hands and exchanging new business cards, but it remains important.

Understand your power.

Courtesy of giphy.com.
Courtesy of giphy.com.


We are in the business of telling stories. The stories we tell have the power to connect people, share ideas and make the world a better place. They also have the power to do the opposite. The responsibility of being a trusted storyteller means that there is no place for stereotypes, assumptions or misrepresentation. However, there is always room for conversation, uniqueness, fresh perspectives and newfound understanding. If we aren’t learning and growing with every page written and business card exchanged, what have we really gained?   

Take a moment this Diversity Month, and throughout the upcoming year, to reflect on the single stories we encounter in everyday life. Remember your power as a PRSSA member and as a human being when trying to break down the barriers built by dangerous single stories, and remember to be your authentic self — whomever that may be.

How will you eliminate the “single stories” in your Chapter and campus community?

Callie Curley is a junior studying journalism and international agriculture at Penn State University. Follow her on Twitter @curleycallie or connect on LinkedIn.  

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