The Story I Tell Myself of the Occasion

It is unpleasant to bring up difficult issues and negative feelings. You feel like squirming, lingering and avoiding the matter. Besides, how is it even done so that the opponent doesn’t immediately take a defensive position, or attack wearing a heavy armor?

There is, in fact, a useful tool I picked up from Brené Brown on Nordic Business Forum and it’s so simple that it’s genius. It doesn’t make starting the conversation any more pleasant, but it does make it a thousand times easier.

The secret of the tool is how you start a sentence. It goes like this: ”The story I’m making up right now” or ”The story I’m telling myself”.

The essential part of the tool is “the story”

Including ”the story” in the sentence makes us pay attention to the fact that our brain is trying to make one up to explain the occasion. It is important to be familiar with this “story mechanism” and to understand what it’s all about.

When we face an uncomfortable situation, or when we get confused or mad at other people’s behaviour, our brain is relentlessly trying to find an explanation to it. It is absolutely necessary for us to find a story that is unconditional: there is the good and the bad one, and it explains that which happened with certainty.

When we make up a story like this, our brain rewards us with a feeling of tranquillity and peacefulness. The story doesn’t even have to be true (or we don’t have to know for certain that it is), in order to calm down. It only has to ”make sense”.

The unconditional story is rarely true

The unfortunate part here is that such story is rarely true. First of all, there aren’t too many stories that actually are as unconditional as our brain would like them to be. In reality we usually can’t define the good and the bad ones unambiguously. In her speech Brown mentioned, that the more certain our minds are of the story, and the more absolute it is, the more likely it is also incorrect and needs clarification.

Secondly, our everyday life is full of misinterpretations and extremely flawed assumptions and explanations. Therefore, the story which makes our brain calm down and reward us with a feeling of tranquillity, is often harmful for our relationships. If we settle with this story, we will bring the unpleasant situations up no more than will we clarify what really happened.

The story I make up of the situation

So, in order to find out what actually happened and to avoid misinterpretations it’s time to put Brown’s tool into action and ask yourself: “What story am I telling myself of the current occasion?”

After that, turn to the person involved and open up the conversation:

  • Hi, I’d like to talk about [situation X]
  • where [occurrence Y].
  • This left me with a feeling/impression/fear/concern/doubt, that [interpretation Z]

So, for example, like this

”Hi, I’d like to talk about the meeting we had yesterday morning. To me it looked like you rolled your eyes when I presented my idea of the execution of the project, and it left me with an impression that you don’t appreciate my expertise and don’t consider me equally good to other colleagues.”

Then the colleague will probably answer something like: ”Oh darn! I didn’t roll my eyes at you but to the other guy who dared to type an email at the meeting, when we had just agreed on not to bring computers to the meetings.” It just happens to be so, that the majority of reactions and negative situations have nothing to do with us what so ever. We are a little too keen to place ourselves in the center of every story.

Yet, sometimes our interpretation is actually close to the truth. Then this opening will lead us to a difficult discussion. It may not be particularly pleasant, but it’s definitely needed. Otherwise the rollings of the eyes will continue to bother and to bring friction in the team work.

What kind of story does this tool awake in you? Come debone it in Koodarikuiskaaja Slack!

TL;DR: Our brain tells harmful stories

  • In every situation our brain has a tendency to make up a story where we are the main character and someone else is the meanie.
  • When the story is unconditional enough, our brain rewards us with a feeling of tranquillity.
  • This should be a sign, that we ought to clarify the true nature of the story.
  • Ask yourself: ”What kind of story of the occurrence am I telling myself?”
  • After that open up the conversation with the one involved by telling what happened and how you interpreted it.

Or what do you think?

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