Don't believe everything you think picture
Separate facts from the stories you tell yourself

Examine your Story for Productive Dialogue

Motive Matters

In a previous blog post we shared how motive really matters in tough conversations and the 2 important steps to uncovering motive. To recap, first look at the situation to understand what the root of the problem might be. Next, ask yourself some questions to discover your motive. That will get you ready for the conversation and help you to return to your motive if you get sidetracked. If you missed it, you can go to that post here.

Once your motive is clear, the next step to tease apart the facts in the situation from the story you’ve told yourself in order to make sense of those facts. We will continue to use the framework of Crucial Conversations© to understand how to do that.

Every day our brain takes in thousands of pieces of information. It needs to make sense of what we see and hear.  Since we are wired for narrative, our brain creates a story to make sense of the information. Our brain does this so quickly that we don’t notice it is happening. It can happen so quickly and make such complete sense to us, that we believe our story is the facts. With some awareness and practice, we can learn to separate the facts from the story we’ve told ourselves.

Separate Facts from Stories

So, what are facts and stories? A fact is something that has actually taken place which can be measured or observed. On the other hand, a story is a subjective account of incidents or events. To create our stories, we try to figure out the other party’s motive, we make judgements and guesses. That’s how our brain makes sense of what we saw or heard.  

For example, we see a colleague coming out of a conference room and slamming the door behind them. We think, “Wow, they’re mad!” Is that a fact? No, it’s what our brain came up with to make sense of why someone would slam a door when leaving a room. Is it possible their hand slipped off the handle, so the door accidentally closed harder than they meant it to? Or is it possible that the door is broken and if you don’t close it firmly it doesn’t stay latched? Are there other possibilities? Yes. All we really know is they left a room and the door closed loudly behind them. The rest is our story.

The more we open our minds to other possibilities during tough conversations, the greater opportunity we have to understand the point of view of the other person. Separating facts from the story we have told ourselves makes room for other possibilities. In her Netflix special “Call to Courage” Brene’ Brown says that in her research, she has discovered that the most resilient people she’s studied have what she calls “a magic sentence” in common. The sentence is “The story I’m telling myself…”

When we’ve gone into a conversation with a positive motive and have separated the facts from the story we’ve told ourselves, we are much more likely to have open and productive conversations. And we need more of those right now!

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