The Story I’m telling myself is…

I had one of those days recently when I wasn’t feeling my best, and didn’t behave in a way that I’m proud of. To put it more bluntly, I felt like shit and acted like an asshole. 

In my haste to resolve an issue with a customer’s account, I did a minimal amount of research, jumped to a conclusion, and pointed fingers in the wrong direction. In fact, no finger pointing was necessary as all was being handled as it should. Had I took the time to dig a tiny bit deeper, I would have discovered that a resolution was in progress. Instead, I chose to believe the inaccurate picture I painted in my head, and made a fool of myself with one of my colleagues by suggesting that they hadn’t followed through with the customer. 

Ouch! Of course I was relieved to find out that I was wrong, but also instantly regretful of my actions. Thankfully, after reading Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, I have a very handy tool for dealing with this should it arise again in the future (and it will). That tool is to begin the conversation with, “The story I’m telling myself is…” and share what’s going on in your brain. By doing so, you’re acknowledging that you could be wrong, and you’re giving the other person the opportunity to tell the true story, rather than staying stuck in your fictional fantasy. 

In the book, Brene highlights our human need to make sense of the world around us. When we don’t have all the facts, we fill in the blanks with details that adhere to the story we’re telling in our mind. The danger is, we’re often telling a story that’s far from the truth, and when we don’t fact check, we could end up in embarrassing situations such as the one I described above. This, of course, can happen in all relationships, not just at work.

This kind of inaccurate thinking can lead to an abundance of unnecessary stress and conflict. Just think about how you feel when someone accuses you of something that is completely false, or when someone starts treating you differently and you make up elaborate stories in your head as to why that may be happening. The remedy is to be brave, and vulnerable, and approach them with, “The story I’m telling myself is (fill in the blank, e.g. you think I’m a bad friend because I didn’t call you back the other night). Is that true?”

To use my real life example above, I could have said…

I noticed something odd in this customer’s account, and the story I’m telling myself is that you didn’t fully complete the downgrade process with them. I’m probably missing some important details. Can you fill me in on what happened?

In the heat of the moment it can be difficult to step back and realize that you’re making things up in your mind that aren’t based in fact. So it’s important to have self-awareness and know when you’re in a triggered state and not at your most rational. That’s when you need to take a breath and ask yourself first, “What story am I telling myself?”

That weekend I was in a lot of physical pain and discomfort, and had several one-on-one sessions with customers where I had to be at my sharpest and friendliest. My schedule was full and I wanted to complete everything as quickly and efficiently as possible so at the end of the day I could get back to resting. The sense of urgency and physical discomfort contributed to my false story. Had I taken a breath, acknowledged that I was likely missing details, and sought clarity I would have spared myself and my colleague the awkwardness of our ensuing interaction. 

Have you found yourself in similar situations? If this story is resonating, here’s what you can do:

  • Read Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown
  • When you feel yourself getting heated, take a breath and ask yourself, “What story am I telling myself?” Then share that story with the person that can clarify the facts.
  • Share in the comments below a similar experience where you jumped to a conclusion because of a false story you were telling yourself, and what that led to. 

2 responses to “The Story I’m telling myself is…”

  1. I love Brene Brown, too! Another great use for that tool is when you are feeling bad about yourself. For example, if we do something that makes us feel stupid, we often have self-talk about how stupid we are. So, if you say “The story I’m telling myself is that I am stupid” it puts space between you and “stupid” so that you can recognize that you are not stupid, you are the person who is aware of feeling stupid. And, you can take it a step further by saying “I am aware that the story I’m telling myself is that I am stupid” to give it even more space. Once you do that, you can understand that you may have done something stupid, but you are not stupid…and doing stupid things is just part of being human!

    1. Thank you Carolyn! That is definitely a wonderful way to use this same tool and I’ll do my best to remember that.

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