I recently had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend (video post coming soon!), Jill McPherson. We talked about the assumptions we all make all day, every day, that have the potential to lead to miscommunication or conflict with those around us.
After we finished our recording we continued chatting about communication and how difficult it can be. I shared some of the things I notice, for myself, around communication and also shared some of the things I see in mediation. We talked about the stories we tell ourselves as a reaction to the words or behaviour of someone else. These stories may have positive or negative content but what they usually have in common is that they are not entirely accurate. And yet, as we create the story for ourselves we tend to start to consider it as fact.
Within this conversation Jill brought up a pearl of wisdom she had heard from Brene Brown. If you’re a Brene Brown fan you’ve probably already heard this! For me, I’ve seen some of her stuff but I wasn’t familiar with this particular gem.
What Brene offers is a simple phrase you can use as an alternative to whatever your immediate reaction to someone may be. That phrase is “the story I’m making up…” This uncomplicated little line signals to both of you that you have a narrative going on in your head. But the use of the word “story” lets you both know that it’s just that at this point, a story that allows for the possibility that you’re wrong in your interpretation.
So let’s use that in a hypothetical situation I may see between a couple who are separating in mediation. Let’s pretend they’re in a disagreement about parenting time. This is often a sticking point in separation discussions.
Let’s test this out and use Brene’s approach. Let’s say mom and dad are disagreeing about the schedule. Mom might say, “The story I’m telling myself right now is that you are just trying to get back at me for cheating by disagreeing about the schedule.”
This one line can tell both mom and dad a lot about the situation. Dad now has an opportunity to respond. He may say “No, I’m just really thinking about my work schedule and trying to figure out how I’m going to make this work. I’m not doing this to get back at you. I want to work on this with you.” Or, perhaps dad might say “Yes, I’m still really angry with you so why should I give you what you’re asking for.”
Either way, this conversation has just really opened up and given each of them way more insight into the situation. For mom, she may realize that dad is actually past her infidelity and it is actually her who is hanging onto some shame or regret around it and seeing everything through that lens. Or, it may tell dad that he still has some work to do on how he’s feeling so that he can make decisions for his kids that aren’t being made through the lens of the anger he feels toward mom. Perhaps it just lets them both know that they’ve got to continue exploring a schedule that can work as best as possible for everyone.
As I consider this simple phrase I can begin to imagine how I can apply it in my own life with my kids, my husband or friends.
So, what’s the story you’ve been telling yourself?