It’s important to get in touch with your feelings, and to do so,
you may want to expand your emotional vocabulary.
Analyze You r Stories
Question your feelings and stories. Once you’ve identified what
you’re feeling, you have to stop and ask, given the circum
stances, is it the right feeling? Meaning, of course, are you telling
the right story? After all, feelings come from stories, and stories
are our own invention.
The first step to regaining emotional control is to challenge
the illusion that what you’re feeling is the only right emotion
under the circumstances. This may be the hardest step, but it’s
also the most important one. By questioning our feelings, we
open ourselves up to question our stories. We challenge the com
fortable conclusion that our story is right and true. We willingly
question whether our emotions (very real) , and the story behind
them (only one of many possible explanations) , are accurate.
MASTER MY STORIES 1 05
For instance, what were the facts in Maria’s story? She saw
Louis give the whole presentation. She heard the boss talk about
meeting with Louis to discuss the project when she wasn’t pres
ent. That was the beginning of Maria’s Path to Action.
Don ‘t confuse stories with facts. Sometimes you fail to ques
tion your stories because you see them as immutable facts. When
you generate stories in the blink of an eye, you can get so caught
up in the moment that you begin to believe your stories are facts.
They feel like facts. You confuse subjective conclusions with
steel-hard data points. For example, in trying to ferret out facts
from story, Maria might say, “He’s a male chauvinist pig-that’s
a fact ! Ask anyone who has seen how he treats me ! ”
“He’s a male chauvinist pig” is not a fact. It’s the story that
Maria created to give meaning to the facts. The facts could mean
just about anything. As we said earlier, others could watch Maria’s
interactions with Louis and walk away with different stories.
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.