The Evils of Story Time When Stories Become Malignant

From earliest childhood, we all love story time. We beg our parents for bedtime tales (as much to postpone "lights out" as to hear the stories, of course); we look forward to story hour in kindergarten; and we cluster around the volunteers in the children's library as they read aloud.
.As adults, we dress "story hour" in more sophisticated clothing and attend poetry readings, literature society presentations, and "open mike" nights at the local bookstore. And as businesspeople, we explore the role of story-telling as a knowledge transfer tool, following Stephen Denning's lead into the world of business narrative.

.And we tell ourselves stories. When those stories are dreams, that's wonderful; without the stories we dream for ourselves and our families, we would never reach for the things that make our lives special, or achieve goals that make us look around and say, "Wow! I did that!"

But not every story we tell is visionary; in fact, the little ones, the small, deceitful ones that drag us down, frustrate us, and make us mistrust people are quite the opposite of visionary. These stories lead us to believe the worst of other people and to doubt our own abilities. What's most insidious about them is that we don't recognize that they are stories instead of reality. Thus, when a co-worker doesn't respond to an emailed request, or a customer doesn't return a phone call about payment, or we are faced with a new and unexpected challenge at work, we start creating stories that we believe are logical conclusions.

  • "What's wrong with him? All I asked for was a simple yes or no! He's ignoring me ? how rude!"
  • "Oh, no.

    My competition has stolen my best customer. I thought we had a great relationship ? how could she betray me like that?"

  • "I don't know where to start. I don't know what to do. I'm going to fail!"


What's worse, we start acting on those stories.

  • "No, don't ask him for anything. He's totally unreliable."
  • "Well, fine.

    I'll just let our customer support reps know that she's not a Platinum Support customer any more!"

  • "I can't do that. I don't have any of the skills I need, I've never done anything like that before! Someone else should have this project!"

.Meanwhile, back in reality:
  • Your co-worker had email trouble; after two days, the IT department finally recovered most, but not all, of his messages.

  • Your customer as on a cruise; meanwhile, her assistant tried to call Customer Support with a problem and was denied Platinum Support.
  • Your boss selected you for this project because it's a great way for you to learn new skills and hone abilities you already have. In fact, she's planning to promote you when the project is done.

.Unfortunately, all too often we never learn about reality because we're so busy acting on the story and manifesting it in our lives. When your co-worker learns that you've told everyone he's unreliable, he's not likely to respond to your requests; your customer's disappointing response from Support may well drive her to your competition; and your boss will probably react to your panic by giving the project ? and the promotion ? to someone else.

.So, how do we catch ourselves in the act and transform these bad stories into curiosity and communication?
.The first step for changing any habitual behavior is to simply notice it. By acknowledging what we do, we initiate change.

The next step is to consciously choose to assume the best, rather than the worst. I can hear you asking, "But isn't that just another story?" Yes, it is ? and it's a story that empowers us to take constructive action, rather than one that destroys communication and relationships. By telling a best-case story, we can

  • Assume that since a usually reliable co-worker hasn't answered our email he must be having trouble, and offer our support.
  • Wonder if our customer might have missed our message, and call again ? and call her assistant to explain the urgency.
  • Talk over the new project with a trusted friend or advisor, and approach our boss with a plan for the tasks where we need help versus those where we're confident.

.When we assume the best and then ask questions, we deliberately keep an open mind and deliberately choose to be optimists instead of pessimists. For those who are naturally cautious, this may feel uncomfortably difficult.

Appease your caution by understanding that assuming good, or at least innocuous, reasons and motivations is in fact a safer behavior than always assuming the worst!
.When we act on our worst assumptions, we leave no room to maneuver; instead, we trample long-term relationships underfoot, and opportunities for achievement and constructive communication go unrealized.
.On the other hand, if after we have acted with an open mind we learn that in fact our co-worker did ignore our request, our customer has taken her business elsewhere, and our boss is handing us more than we can manage, we have burned no bridges and can still respond with respect and discretion. Who knows ? maybe our co-worker didn't understand the urgency of our request, we might win our customer back with a gentle reminder of a long-standing record of superior service, and our boss might hand over that promotion when we present a plan requesting the support we need!

I challenge you to take action today to derail a malignant story and replace it with one that builds relationships and communication.
."The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best ? and therefore never scrutinize or question." Stephen Jay Gould, 1941 ? 2002, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science.

.(c)Grace L. Judson
.About the Author
Grace Judson is the founder and driving force behind Svaha Concepts. As a professional coach, she specializes in helping smart people find easy ways to do hard things, particularly in the realm of communication and collaboration.

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By: Grace Judson

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