Get Back to the Facts
Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior. To separate
fact from story, get back to the genuine source of your feelings .
Test your ideas against a simple criterion: Can you see or hear
this thing you’re calling a fact? Was it an actual behavior?
For example, it is a fact that Louis “gave 95 percent of the pre
sentation and answered all but one question.” This is specific,
objective, and verifiable. Any two people watching the meeting
would make the same observation. However, the statement “He
doesn’t trust me” is a conclusion. It explains what you think, not
what the other person did. Conclusions are subjective.
Spot the story by watching for “hot” words. Here’s another tip.
To avoid confusing story with fact, watch for “hot” terms. For
cxample, when assessing the facts, you might say, “She scowled at
mc” or “He made a sarcastic comment.” Words such as “scowl”
anu “sarcastic” are hot terms. They express judgments and attribu-
1 06 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
tions that, in turn, create strong emotions. They are story, not fact.
Notice how much different it is when you say: “Her eyes pinched
shut and her lips tightened,” as opposed to “She scowled at me.” In
Maria’s case, she suggested that Louis was controlling and didn’t
respect her. Had she focused on his behavior (he talked a lot and
met with the boss one-on-one) , this less volatile description would
have allowed for any number of interpretations. For example, per
haps Louis was nervous, concerned, or unsure of himself.
Watch for Three “Clever” Stories
As we begin to piece together why people are doing what they’re
doing (or equally important, why we’re doing what we’re doing),
with time and experience we become quite good at coming up
with explanations that serve us well. Either our stories are com
pletely accurate and propel us in healthy directions, or they’re
quite inaccurate but justify our current behavior-making us feel
good about ourselves and calling for no need to change.
It’s the second kind of story that routinely gets us into trouble.
For example, we move to silence or violence, and then we come
up with a perfectly plausible reason for why it’s okay. “Of course
I yelled at him. Did you see what he did? He deserved it.” “Hey,
don’t be gi”ing me the evil eye. I had no other choice.” We call
these imaginative and self-serving concoctions “clever stories.”
They’re clever because they allow us to feel good about behaving
badly. Better yet, they allow us to feel good about behaving badly
even while achieving abysmal results.
Among all of the clever stories we tell, here are the three most
Victim Stories-lilt’s Not My Fault”
The first of the clever stories is a Victim Story. Victim Stories, as
you might imagine, make us out to be innocent sufferers . The
theme is always the same. The other person is bad and wrong,
MASTER MY STORIES 1 07
and we are good and right. Other people do bad things, and we
suffer as a result.
In truth, there is such a thing as an innocent victim. You’re
stopped in the street and held up at gunpoint. When an event
such as this occurs, it’s a sad fact, not a story. You are a victim.
But all tales of victimization are not so one-sided. When you
tell a Victim Story, you ignore the role you played in the prob
lem. You tell your story in a way that judiciously avoids facts
about whatever you have done (or neglected to do) that might
have contributed to the problem.
For instance, last week your boss took you off a big project,
and it hurt your feelings. You complained to everyone about
how bad you felt. Of course, you failed to let your boss know
that you were behind on an important project, leaving him
high and dry-which is why he removed you in the first place.
This part of the story you leave out because, hey, he made you
To help support your Victim Stories you speak of nothing but
your noble motives. “I took longer because I was trying to beat
the standard specs.” Then you tell yourself that you’re being pun
ished for your virtues, not your vices. “He just doesn’t appreci
ate a person with my superb attention to detail.” (This added
twist turns you from victim into martyr. What a bonus ! )