Crucial Conversations – Chapter 6 section 2 (part 10 of 18)

SKILLS FOR MASTERING OUR STORIES 

What’s the most effective way to come up with different stories? The bestat dialogue find a way to first slow down and then take charge of their Path to Action. Here’s how.

 

Retrace Your Path

 To slow down the lightning-quick storytelling process and the subsequent flow of adrenaline, retrace your Path to Action – one element at a time. This calls for a bit of mental gymnastics. First you have to stop what you’re currently doing. Then you have to get in touch with why you’re doing it. Here’s how to retrace your path:

  • [Act] Notice your behavior. Ask: “Am I in some form of silence or violence?”
  • [Feel] Get in touch with your feelings. “What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?”
  • [Tell Story] Analyze your stories. “What story is creating these emotions?”
  • [See/Hear] Get back to the facts. “What evidence do I have to support this story?”

By retracing your path one element at a time, you put yourself in a position to think about, question, and change any one or more of the elements.

Notice your behavior. Why would you stop and retrace your Path to Action in the first place? Certainly if you’re constantly stopping what you’re doing and looking for your underlying motive and thoughts, you won’t even be able to put on your shows without thinking about it for who knows how long. You’ll die of analysis paralysis.

Actually, you shouldn’t constantly stop and question your actions. If you Learn to Look (as we suggested in Chapter 4) and note that you yourself are slipping into silence or violence, you have good reason to stop and take stock.

But looking isn’t enough. You must take an honestlook at what you’re doing. If you tell yourself a story that your violent behavior is a “necessary tactic,” you won’t see the need to reconsider your actions. If you immediately jump in with “they started it,” or otherwise find yourself rationalizing your behavior, you also won’t feel compelled to change. Rather than stop and review what you’re doing, you’ll devote your time to justifying your actions to yourself and others.

When an unhelpful story is driving you to silence or violence, stop and consider how others would see your actions. For example, if the 60 Minutescamera crew replayed this scene on national television, how would you look? What would theytell you about your behavior?

Not only do those who are best at crucial conversations notice when they’re slipping into silence or violence, but they’re also able to admit it. They don’t wallow in self-doubt, of course, but they do recognize the problem and begin to take corrective action. The moment they realize that they’re killing dialogue, they review their own Path to Action.

Get in touch with your feelings. As skilled individuals begin to retrace their own Path to Action, they immediately move from examining their own unhealthy behavior to exploring their feelings or emotions. At first glance this task sounds easy. “I’m angry!” you think to yourself. What could be easier?

Actually, identifying your emotions is more difficult than you might imagine. In fact, many people are emotionally illiterate. When asked to describe how they’re feeling, you use words such as “bad” or “angry” or “frightened” – which would be okay if these were accurate descriptors, but often they’re not. Individuals say they’re angry when, in fact, they’re feeling a mix of embarrassment and surprise. Or they suggest they’re unhappy when they’re feeling violated. Perhaps they suggest they’re upset when they’re really feeling humiliated and cheated.

It’s important to get in touch with your feelings, and to do so, you may want to expand your emotional vocabulary.

Analyze your stories.Question your feelings and stories. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, you have to stop and ask, given the circumstances, is it the rightfeeling? Meaning, of course, are you telling the right story? After all, feelings come from stories, and stories are our own invention.

The first step to regaining emotional control is to challenge the illusion that what you’re feeling is the only rightemotion under the circumstances. This may be the hardest step, but it’s also the most important one. By questioning our feelings, we open ourselves up to question our stories.

Don’t confuse stories with facts. Sometimes you fail to question your stories because you see them as immutable facts. When you generate stories in the blink of an eye, you can get so caught up in the moment that you begin to believe your stories are facts. They feellike facts. You confuse subjective conclusions with steel-hard data points.

Get back to the facts.Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior. To separate fact from story, get back to the genuine source of your feelings. Test your ideas against a simple criterion: Can you seeor hearthis thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?

For example, it is the fact that Louis “gave 95 percent of the presentation and answered all but one question.” This is specific, objective, and verifiable. Any two people watching the meeting would make the same observation. However, the statement “He doesn’t trust me” is a conclusion. It explains what you think, not what the other person did. Conclusions are subjective.

Spot the story by watching for “hot” words. Here’s another tip. To avoid confusing story with fact, watch for “hot” terms. For example, when assessing the facts, you might say, “She scowled at me” or “He made a sarcastic comment.” Words such as “scowl” and “sarcastic” are hot terms. They express judgements and attributions that, in turn, create strong emotions. They are story, not fact.