As it turns out, there is an intermediate step between what oth
ers do and how we feel. That’s why, when faced with the same
circumstances, ten people may have ten different emotional
responses. For instance, with a coworker like Louis, some might
feel insulted whereas others merely feel curious. Some become
angry and others feel concern or even sympathy.
What is this intermediate step? Just after we observe what
others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell
ourselves a story. That is, we add meaning to the action we
observed. To the simple behavior we add motive. Why were they
doing that? We also add judgment-is that good or bad? And
then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with
Pictorially it looks like the model in Figure 6-2. We call this
model our Path to Action because it explains how emotions,
thoughts, and experiences lead to our actions.
You’ll note that we’ve added telling a story to our model. We
observe, we tell a story, and then we feel. Although this addition
complicates things a bit, it also gives us hope. Since we and only
See! Tell a Feel Hear —…. Story –….
Figure 6-2. The Path to Action
MASTER MY STORIES 99
we are telling the story, we can take back control of our own
emotions by telling a different story. We now have a point of
leverage or control. If we can find a way to control the stories we
tell, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions
and, therefore, master our crucial conversations.
“Nothing in this world is good or bad,
but thinking makes it so. ”
Stories explain what’s going on. Exactly what are our stories?
They are our interpretations of the facts. They help explain what
we see and hear. They’re theories we use to explain why, how,
and what. For instance, Maria asks: “Why does Louis take over?
l ie doesn’t trust my ability to communicate. He thinks that
because I’m a woman, people won’t listen to me.”
Our stories also help explain how. “How am I supposed to
j uuge al l of this? Is this a good or a bad thing? Louis thinks I’m
incompetent. and this is bad.”
1 00 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
Finally, a story might also include what. “What should I do
about all this? If I say something, he’ll think I’m a whiner or
oversensitive or militant, so it’s best to clam up.”
Of course, as we come up with our own meaning or stories, it
isn’t long until our body responds with strong feelings or emo
tions-they’re directly linked to our judgments of right/wrong,
good/bad, kind/selfish, fair/unfair, etc. Maria’s story yields anger
and frustration. These feelings, in turn, drive Maria to her
actions-toggling back and forth between clamming up and tak
ing an occasional cheap shot (see Figure 6-3) .
Even if you don’t realize it, you are telling yourself stories.
When we teach people that it’s our stories that drive our emotions
and not other people’s actions, someone inevitably raises a hand
and says, “Wait a minute! I didn’t notice myself telling a story.
When that guy laughed at me during my presentation, I just felt
angry. The feelings came first; the thoughts came second.”
Storytelling typically happens blindingly fast. When we
believe we’re at risk, we tell ourselves a story so quickly that we
don’t even know we’re doing it. If you don’t believe this is true,
ask yourself whether you always become angry when someone
Tell a Story Feel
Louis He doesn’t hurt $ilenoe makes all -……. trust mel -…….womed -“””‘Cheap the points, thinkS I’m shots meets prt- weak. If I vately With speak up the boss I’U Jook too