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Get Back to the Facts

Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior. To separate

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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

common.

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

feel bad.

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 ! )

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