For centuries, stories have helped people understand complex ideas and make sense of the world. Now, they are embraced as invaluable tools for teaching, healing, and persuasion.

With case studies showing that narrative techniques can boost company sales by as much as 500%, it’s no wonder that many businesses now consider storytelling a strategic imperative. But these skills can affect much more than the bottom line. They can enhance decision-making and improve corporate culture.

The reason: stories blend facts with feelings, allowing people to connect with others on an emotional level. Stories literally change brain chemistry, studies show, increasing hormones that focus attention, improve memory, and boost empathy.

While businesses consider narrative intelligence a key to leadership, medical schools view narrative competence as a potent clinical skill. Analyzing narratives is critical to psychotherapy, given that stories shape identity. We are the stories we tell ourselves, psychologists say. Narrative therapy can help trauma victims realize that they can focus too much on only one part of their life story. Similar narrative techniques are used in conflict resolution programs, too.