The Owl's Perch

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Typically, facts are things I see with my own eyes or can externally verify as true. Often confused with those facts are my interpretations of them. Recently, several members of an executive team I started working with started a sentence in our meeting with, “The story I tell myself is…” I quickly realized they had learned an important lesson between facts and stories.

As a conflict resolution tool, I often encourage people to discuss the differences between their perspectives. Beyond a “he said, she said” exchange, I’m looking for a willingness to understand there may be nuances or variations on what is “true.” While helpful, the dialogue often becomes a frustrating battle to see who can prove their version of the truth to be more worthy. So now I’m trying something new with the hint from the new executive team.

Most of the time there are precious few facts everyone can agree on, but that’s an important place to start. For example, last week a client mentioned her direct report sat down in a meeting and put her foot up on a chair. She said it was incredibly rude, disrespectful and showed little regard for everyone in the meeting. We identified the “facts” as a woman put her foot on a chair at the beginning of a meeting. The rest was a “story” or meaning she attached to that fact as being rude and disrespectful. We pondered other possible meanings and came up with quite a few, none of which we could prove without asking the direct report.

They’re now trying to build an effective habit of starting a difficult conversation with an identification of facts. Then they begin the next sentence with, “And the story I tell myself about those facts is…” As a result, they’re building a more open, candid relationship that includes individual ownership, humility and a bit of humor. As it turns out the direct report had recently twisted her ankle and assumed everyone already knew about it.

So what’s the story you’re telling yourself about your interactions with people around you? Might there be different facts from your story? How might naming your “story” be helpful to building more solid relationships?


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