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Stories Create Feelings

As it turns out, there is an intermediate step between what oth­

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Stories Create Feelings As it turns out, there is an intermediate step between what oth­ ers do and how we feel
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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

an emotion.

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


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.”




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

See! Hear

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


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