When I was a young boy I loved a good story. I would dive head first into a book and let the words take me away to all kinds of magical places. It was here I realized I was only limited by my imagination.
I suppose as a 50 year old adult I'm not much different. I still like a good story, but now as a Professional Coach working with leadership teams and individuals, supporting both with their ability to communicate more effectively, it is highly important that we get the story right.
Entering into a conversation armed with misinformation can lead to conflict, misunderstanding and broken trust. And can prove to be very costly.
Yet we do it all the time. Why?
George Bernard Shaw said "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." I would add that in fact the illusion could actually be "The Story" we tell ourselves and this is the beginning of where things can go terribly wrong.
Take this scenario for example:
Imagine at work you're tasked with providing a presentation to your boss alongside a colleague of yours who is more senior and more experienced on the topic with each of you being responsible for explaining 50% of the model you have come up with.
The presentation is tomorrow morning at 9am and it's currently 11:30am the day preceding the meeting. You're just wrapping up the final details with your colleague when in a moment of trust and vulnerability you share how nervous you are about tomorrow and that the boss intimidates you.
Your colleague assures you you're going to be fine, even tells you how good you are at what you do and that he has every confidence in the world that you will nail it.
It feels good to hear this and you wrap up the meeting and go on with the rest of your day.
Later that afternoon you happen to notice your colleague walking into the boss's office. And immediately your imagination takes off.
And this is where "The Story" begins.
You see or hear something and your brain immediately starts to fabricate a story.
You hear yourself saying "how could he?!! "He's in there selling me out, informing the boss that I'm nervous and probably not the right person for the position!!!" You have no evidence that this is true but you've seen or heard enough and with your mind racing "the story" begins.
You feel angry, hurt or betrayed. Perhaps frustrated or belittled and this leads you on a path to act in one of two ways. You either go silent or you go violent.
Let's look at both:
Silent: You're sitting at your desk in full-blown disbelief as to what you are witnessing and your "story" is running wild. As your colleague leaves the boss's office he walks by and says "see you tomorrow partner."
You don't answer. In fact you can't even find it within yourself to look up and make eye contact with him.
He's confused. Earlier that day the two of you had really connected talking back and forth and laughing as you worked together on the presentation. When he asks what's wrong you simply reply "nothing, I'm just tired." (Anybody relate to this statement?) You're not willing to engage in what you assume will be a conversation that will lead to conflict so you go silent saying nothing at all instead choosing to hold your true feelings in.
This hurts the relationship.
Violence: You're sitting at your desk in full-blown disbelief as to what you are witnessing and your story is running wild. As your colleague leaves the boss's office he walks by and says "see you tomorrow partner."
But this time you let him have it with both barrels. "How could you?" you ask. "I told you in confidence that I was nervous and intimidated by the boss, and the first chance you had you went into his office and sold me out." "Don't try to deny it, I saw you and even overheard you mention my name." (Can anybody relate to this statement?)
This hurts the relationship.
In both cases "the story" you told yourself led you to act with either silence or violence. But your story wasn't based on fact. It was fabricated by what you thought you saw or heard leading your mind to fill in the rest.
The actual true story here was that when your teammate was talking to the boss he was actually telling him how excited he was to be working with you and was getting final confirmation they had the meeting room booked and that everything was a go for tomorrow.
How might knowing the real facts have changed your "story," and how you felt and then acted?
How might having had the real facts have helped you avoid conflict in this case and saved you from saying something that might have broken trust and damaged the relationship?
Find out in my next newsletter, as we'll talk more about how to uncover the real story even when your mind is racing.
Or if you can't wait attend my next "Communicate for Success" workshop being held Saturday, July 4th in Edmonton. See the details below for location, times and how to register.
Stories are great. I tell them all the time, but when communicating make sure "your story" is based on facts and avoid unwanted consequences.
Life is too short to assume. Get clarity and play strong!