Mastering Your Stories

Assumptions are the termites of relationships. Henry Winkler

There are all types of stories, the bedtime stories we tell our children, the big fish that got away stories that we tell after vacations, and those stories we tell our spouse for why the credit card balance just keeps increasing.  However, this is not about any of those stories. What this is about is those stories we tell ourselves every day. An example might be when our boss walks in to the office in the morning passes us in the hall and doesn’t say good morning, how many of us immediately tell ourselves the story “gosh I must have really messed up my status report last night and he’s going to blast me when I have my one on one this afternoon.”  Then we sweat all day until we have our meeting with the boss in the afternoon, only to find out that he has a toothache and isn’t feeling well.  What a better day we would have had if we had just not jumped so quickly to tell the negative story.  Think about every day when things happen and the stories we tell ourselves only to later find out that our stories were just manifestations of how we were feeling at the time.

The concept of “mastering stories” comes from some training and a book that I read many years ago. The book is Crucial Confrontations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.  If you have read it you might remember that the concept of mastery of stories is around first reflecting on and seeking out all of the possible reasons why the event might have happened.  Don’t immediately jump in and assume you know what is going on, but instead ask yourself why a reasonable rational person might have done what you observed. I like to think of this as” always assume the best intentions.” If you can accomplish this and stop telling yourself negative stories, I think you will find that you have a better working relationship with others and at the same time a much more positive work environment.

Here is an exercise to illustrate my point. Think over your week. Think really hard.  When during the week did you tell yourself a story that turned out to be a real fabrication of the experience? Be honest, I’m sure that you can come up with at least one example. Mine would go something like this… during a project meeting a manager from another department brought up the need to keep another director and one of the senior officers in the company informed. When this happened I told myself this story. “She must not agree with what we are doing and wants to run and tattle on us to the big boss…” I was frustrated for the team because this certainly seemed like unnecessary bureaucracy and we already had a good plan and process worked out to move forward efficiently and why couldn’t she just see that? So I fumed for a few minutes and then took myself to task to master my story (you can think of this as going and standing in the corner and giving myself a good talking to). After a phone call and a short conversation with the manager, I then understood that she was not trying to add another layer of decision-making, but instead just trying to ensure that the other executives who would be driving this process moving forward were fully informed. No changes for the team on their processes, just a way to have full disclosure so that the other executives could make effective decisions.

Back to your story. Were you able to master it? Did you use the reasonable rational person view? Did you assume the best intentions? If not, go stand in the corner for a bit and think about it, or better yet, pick up a copy of the book Crucial Confrontations and learn how to master your stories from the experts.

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2 thoughts on “Mastering Your Stories

  1. I wish I could have read this many years ago. I caused myself so much unneeded stress with my “stories”. I would have entire conversations played out in my mind (all in the name of “being prepared” of course)….. that rarely went the way I thought they would.

    This was blog topic very insightful and thought provoking.

  2. This is a very good blog topic. I’ve noticed as I mature and get wiser (that’s what I’m doing, right?) that I’m better at not jumping to conclusions and allowing for these stories to play out more thoroughly before passing judgment. It’s still a work in progress and I’m sure it always will be, but I’m getting better at it and couldn’t agree more with this post. I love the “go stand in the corner for a bit and think about it” comment. Thanks!

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