We generate stories from things that happen to us which in turn drive our emotions. We than act based on our emotions. This is one of the lessons learned in a training I attended on “crucial conversations” last week. The training is based on this book “Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High“. As I learned, there are three types of stories we tell ourselves that could lead us to negative results:
- Victim – “It’s not my fault.”
- Villain – “It’s their fault.”
- Helpless – “There’s nothing else I can do.”
This lesson resonated with me as I am guilty of telling these stories to myself from time to time. In some ways, our actions become self-fulfilling prophecies. Years ago when I started my career, there was an incident I thought I was discriminated unfairly because of racism. For months after the incident, I was bitter and became very defensive. I went to meetings suspicious of any potential discrimination against me. What I realized years after was that I was projecting a very negative attitude and some of the people I dealt with reacted towards my attitude.
Several years ago, I left a job after feeling helpless. I was frustrated with the changes in my department and the ambiguity of my role. I felt as if I was not heard, I was a “victim” and I was “helpless”. I thought the management did not care about my feelings. I had made them “villains” in my story. The problem was I did not share how I felt with my supervisors. They were shocked when I announced I was leaving. Learning from that lesson, I vowed to become more assertive and get out of the “victim” mentality. In the end, I had to advocate for myself. Certainly, the conversations I’ve had when I expressed my displeasure were not easy, but positive results came out of them. Oftentimes, my supervisors were not fully aware of the issues I had.
It truly is amazing how much of a difference the types of stories we tell ourselves. There are times when I have had to consciously change the story I tell myself in heated conversations so as not to get myself into situations I might regret later. Even when I had to make up positive ones.
I am generally an optimist and so I tend to look at my life from a positive perspective, but life is not always rosy and it’s those times when I have to remind myself to think positive, that I am not a victim, I’m not helpless and other people are not so bad.