Have you ever encountered a situation where you have a limited amount of data, but assume you know the full story? An employee relations issue that seems similar to the one you had the last week? Or, your friend behaves a certain way and you think you know why? You probably came to these assumptions because you built a story to fill in the gaps. Our brains are wired to do this. In the absence of information, we make up stories about our frustrations or anger as a need to protect ourselves. Acting on these stories without gaining clarity can lead us to poor decisions while hurting ourselves, and others, in the process.
I have been reading Brene’ Brown’s book, “Rising Strong” and, so far, I’m hooked. I enjoy her writing style and storytelling as a way to convey complex information in a digestible, not-too-academic way.
In Chapter 5, a section entitled, “Conspiracies and Confabulations” she explains the storytelling concept I referenced earlier. This chapter hit me like a Reggie Miller 3 pointer because I am as guilty as an Illinois governor on this front. In my work and my personal life, I have a pretty good knack of creating a story in my head about certain situations. Sometimes those stories are correct based on my experience with the issue or the amount of trust I have with the people at hand. Many times, though, I am not right and my assumptions have unfavorable consequences.
When these stories start to form in the mind, Brown suggests asking the following 3 questions to gather more information so you can make a more informed decision:
- What more do I need to understand about the situation?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?
Whether you are dealing with a complex employee relations scenario, working through some conflict in the workplace, or dealing with a personal relationship, asking these 3 questions can slow you down and give you the ability to dig deeper into the situation. Stepping back helps to remove the emotion as much as possible and gives you the opportunity to start a dialogue with the other party to understand intent.
Brown also recommends writing down your initial story in what she refers to as your “shitty first draft” or “SFD.” By going through the process of writing out your initial story, this keeps you from immediately lashing out and assuming the worst of the person in question. This sets up your framework to be able to seek clarity with the 3 questions you need to ask. The SFD is similar to a cooling off period. I always recommend taking a walk around the block or stepping away from the computer before responding to an emotionally charged email.
We all tell ourselves stories when faced with any situation. Regardless of the amount of data available, the story is a defense mechanism to protect us. And while these stories may make us feel better in the moment, the feeling is only temporary. We must take the time to dig deeper and explore the real meaning of the story.
Now it’s time for me to get back to this book!