Last week I sat and listened to two friends narrate a story. An incident had happened related to a project that is very dear to their hearts. I listened as they took one event and told themselves a detailed story about why this had happened, to the point that the person involved (a friend) had become a villain. We all do it! We look at a situation where we have incomplete information and we tell ourselves a story about the other persons motivation, intent and character. Unfortunately we tend to tell ourselves ugly stories! In turn we then move ourselves to the moral high ground.
The book Crucial Accountability* has a very helpful chapter on challenging the stories we tell ourselves. Since most of the stories we tell ourselves happen in our minds, this is where we need to change our approach. The book suggests that we ask ourselves questions such as:-
- Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?
- What other sources of influence are acting on this person? (e.g. structural, social?)
- What's causing this person to do that?
- What am I missing?
- What, if anything, am I pretending not to notice about my role in the problem?
The approach we need to take is one of curiosity, to hold the issue lightly with a curious mind that seeks to find out more information. We need to replace our anger and judging with curiosity.
If the person involved has caused us problems in the past then we are naturally even quicker to jump to ugly conclusions. A tainted history means we are more likely to assume the worst. But we need to work on our own thoughts and feelings before we utter a word. In order to go into a crucial conversation well we need to first get our head right. We establish a hostile climate for interaction the moment we we feel morally superior or have the other person judged as guilty.
Brene Brown in her book Rising Strong also talks about this idea of being curious and listening to the stories we tell ourselves. Both of these books provide insightful and practical approaches which have helped me to monitor the stories in my own mind. When something happens which I don't understand, I try not to jump to conclusions, but rather peg it on an imaginary clothes line in my mind, until more information is available to provide a full explanation.
Let's fight our natural tendency to assume the worst of others and replace it with genuine curiosity.
*Crucial Accountability by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler