The stories that we tell are a powerful way of communicating who we are to our listeners. Through narratives, we can emphasise or call attention to aspects of our 'selves'. At work, our identity is bound by our hierarchical position, so although workplace anecdotes are typically intended to entertain or amuse others, they may also be used to exaggerate or undermine this position. We have analysed workplace data to explore what counts as a workplace anecdote, and how they are used in the workplace to construct a professional image.

Workplace anecdotes are a special type of narrative. They are brief digressions from core-business that serve social purposes, such as humanising the narrator and/or downplaying positions of authority.

e.g. Opening of weekly team meeting in a large commercial organisation

Peg: well welcome back ClaraClara: thank you PegPeg: we really missed youClara: oh thank you PegAll: [laugh]//[drawl]:oh:\
Peg: /(he was) really awful to us you don't know what he made us do [laughs]\\
All: [laugh]
Clara: the //power went\to his head did it?Sandy: /(did not)\\Peg: oh it was just terrible and he kept going up and sitting in your desk [laughs]

e.g. Company CEO Yvonne speaking at a staff meeting

Yvonne: where were we in parliament the other night and someone was talking oh[name]and ( )and he said and it's just like a cry in the wind or something like that+and a little baby way up the back went [makes baby crying noise][others laugh and talk all at once]
Greg: he probably had somebody prodding that baby going ( )knowing [name] as well as having somebody to (write the line) for himhe had someone prodding a baby with a sharp object [others laugh and talk all at once]
Quentin: oh you're meanYvonne: oh he's a bloody idiot [general laughter]
XM: (you're being recorded)Yvonne: I'd say that openly to anybodyGreg: I'd rather you didn't [general laughter]

The content of the story may not be particularly significant to the listeners, but the function of the story in creating a particular image of the narrator means that anecdotes are an important part of workplace interactions.


Please see our list of publications on Narrative in the Bibliographies section.