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Gini Dietrich

Reading Fiction Helps Your Career

By: Gini Dietrich | January 17, 2012 | 
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I’m an English major. Not as in the language, but as in literature and creative writing.

I preface with that because what I’m about to say may come across as biased.

Read. More. Fiction.

As it turns out, though, I’m not biased (well, maybe a little bit). In the November issue of Scientific American, author and researcher Keith Oatley describes what reading fiction does for our minds and souls.

  1. Reading stories can fine-tune your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.
  2. Entering imagined worlds builds empathy and improves your ability to take another person’s point of view.
  3. A love affair with narrative may gradually alter your personality—in some cases, making you more open to new experiences and more socially aware.

You can’t read the entire article unless you subscribe, but that’s the gist of what it says.

I run a PR firm so, of course, it makes sense for us to require our team read everything from news and blogs to fiction and poetry. And it’s one of the questions we ask during interviews.

Hearing what kinds of books people read (is it Steven King or Ayn Rand?) tells us a lot about what kind of person they are and, better, what kind of writing they’ll be able to do for us.

But you don’t have to be in a creative field for reading fiction to make business sense.

During the past decade or so, Oatley and other academic researchers have shown how reading fiction helps a person better understand real human emotion, which improves social skills.

In one of Oatley’s studies, 94 respondents were asked to guess the emotion of a person by looking at a photograph of their eyes. They discovered,

The more fiction people [had] read, the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and…correctly interpreting social cues.

As well, they tested 252 people on the theory that the big five personality traits – extroversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness – could be affected by reading novels. Once again they discovered,

A significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities.

But it’s not just about social skills with your team. It also affects the bottom line. The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence shows how teaching employees to focus on their work and not simply just getting the job done cuts down on grievances, mistakes, and even safety issues.

Emotional intelligence is forged in many ways, including fiction reading. Just like anything else, we have to work our minds…for leadership skills, for managing profits, and for working better with our human capital.

Next time you go to pick up a business publication or haggle through your email, at the end of a long day, think about reading some fiction instead. Not only will it give you some time away from work, it will help you at work.

This first appeared in my weekly Crain’s column.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

202 comments
Agarza239
Agarza239

It's always great to read a format different than what you're used to working with. It makes you more of a well rounded writer, and even like what you (basically) said, a better rounded person. It’s easy to assume that the more social situations you put yourself in, the more they help you be more social, but you totally hit the nail on the head.

Kristy G. Stewart
Kristy G. Stewart

I love this post beyond words (apparently all my fiction reading hasn't made me all THAT articulate). I'm glad there's a fellow English major out there proving that stories aren't a silly thing to study. ;-)

hanelly
hanelly

This post is excellent. I'd add 2 more:

4. It can improve your tone and refine your voice.

5. It makes good conversation (social currency).

Hajra
Hajra

I am late reading this!

I studied psychology for 5 years! Any thing I read sounds like fiction ;)

ifdyperez
ifdyperez

I'm late reading this! I TOTALLY agree. I majored in creative writing (and still write fiction on my own time) so I have that bias too. It's true that there's a difference in the King/Grisham readers and literary fans of Rand/Orwell. It also gives you a greater command of the language, which is a benefit I'd add to your list.

katie_did8
katie_did8

@ginidietrich I didn't know it was part of a trilogy but did know there are other books with Girl With in them. Same author?

ryanleecox
ryanleecox

@ginidietrich Oh I'm completely sucked in. lol So far Mockingjay is my favorite of the 3. (I know unexpected right?)

ifdyperez
ifdyperez

@ginidietrich@geoffliving Lol, yeah, I'm getting back into the groove and have a couple pieces I'm trying to finish. MAYBE I'll send something over one day. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@JohnDeereTara Have you read The Hunger Games series? I had to make myself go to work just so I could go home and read

ryanleecox
ryanleecox

@ShawnieQR Totally! We'll have to get a 'after book-club-we-already-read-it' to go to the movie! lol #flask

ryanleecox
ryanleecox

@ginidietrich The Jobs book is my next in my queue. Is it okay if I alternate between fiction and non-fiction? =)

ShawnieQR
ShawnieQR

@ryanleecox I am a HUGE Hunger Games Trilogy fan. I can't wait for the 1st movie to come out in March.
#superfan

katie_did8
katie_did8

@ginidietrich OH! Thank you for bringing me up to speed. Can't wait to read both of them, new adventures with Lisbeth? I'm in. :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Reading Fiction Helps Your Career – I am a geek who likes to read books. I was an English major in college and am more comfortable around words than numbers. So it comes to a surprise to me that Science, yes science! has shown that reading fiction can help your career. /* Enjoy this post? Share your thoughts in the comments below or with your own networks. You can also subscribe to the blog to ensure you receive the latest posts. Thanks for visiting! 0 Comments – Your take « Previous Post [...]

  2. [...] to PR/Marketing blog Spinsucks, there are a couple good reasons why: .Reading stories can fine-tune your social skills by helping you better understand other human [...]

  3. [...] If you’ve not yet read Steve Jobs, it is a must read. Yes, I know I just recommended you read more fiction, but this reads like a novel. Not only will you learn more about a leader who built one of the (if [...]

  4. [...] Reading Fiction Helps Your Career [...]

  5. [...] better at it than us, or at least, have notched a few hits.If you want to pump out good content, you have to READ good content. And nothing is better than a good book. Literature is full of people who are better than the [...]

  6. [...] you want to pump out good content, you have to READ good content. And nothing is better than a good book. Literature is full of people who are better than the [...]

  7. [...] a.m., I started to feel guilty for my inability to set my books down. Luckily, I stumbled across a post by Gini Dietrich that encouraged public relations professionals to read fiction, saying it “…builds both [...]

  8. [...] few weeks ago, Gini Dietrich wrote how reading fiction can stimulate your brain to think more creatively and help you in your career. The idea really stuck with [...]

  9. [...] Read some Charles Bukowski. Rather than wasting more time with yet another fluffy social media book, pick up some Buk and observe how a master put words together. Short, sweet, and devoid of any excess, just like you’re supposed to produce. If Bukowski is too raw for you, grab some other fiction (Hemingway?). There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it helps a career. [...]

  10. [...] we can enjoy reading for both pleasure and profession. Inspired by Gini Dietrich’s article, “Reading Fiction Helps Your Career” and Geoff Livingston’s “Nine Books for Communicators,” I decided to put together a short [...]

  11. […] If you’ve not yet read Steve Jobs, it is a must read. Yes, I know I just recommended you read more fiction, but this reads like a novel. Not only will you learn more about a leader who built one of the (if […]

  12. […] few weeks ago, Gini Dietrich wrote how reading fiction can stimulate your brain to think more creatively and help you in your career. The idea really stuck with […]

  13. […] few weeks ago, Gini Dietrich wrote how reading fiction can stimulate your brain to think more creatively and help you in your career. The idea really stuck with […]

  14. […] yourself to good writing helps you understand it better, and know how to create it. Read classics, read your favorites, read authors who are highly recognized and […]