The Stories We Tell Ourselves

One of my favorite books is Crucial Accountability, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler and David Maxwell. I read it after I heard one of the authors speak at a conference last year. What I liked best about the book was that it takes all of your good intentions and helps you put them into action. The whole premise is that we need to address the gap between our expectations and reality, though we seldom do. We’ll complain about where our colleagues fall short and we grumble about what our spouse forgot to do, but we rarely address these issues with the person involved. We’re happy to tell everyone else, but it’s too scary to talk about it with them directly. We’re nervous they won’t see it our way, we’re afraid they won’t like us, we don’t want to be seen as too demanding…the list goes on and on.

In talking about how to address these issues, the book suggests changing the stories we tell ourselves. When a colleague of mine totally blows off a meeting with me without any heads up, it’s easy for me to tell myself that she’s rude and doesn’t respect me. The suggestion made by authors, however, is to ask yourself why would a logical and rational person would behave this way. It’s perhaps another way of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, but with a bit different angle. I’m not a particularly unlikable person, and we do have a culture of respect in my office, and really, if I’m honest, her blowing off the meeting probably has very little to do with me. If I ask why a logical and rational person would totally blow off my meeting, I come up with a whole list of other possibilities: she was running late and wasn’t in the building yet, she got caught up in something else and lost track of time, or – gasp – maybe I didn’t communicate how important it was for her to be there and she didn’t make it a priority. These are all things that I could see happening to me, who I consider a fairly logical and rational person.

Now sure, there are ways to avoid these things, but I think there are two important things to remember. One, we’re all doing the best we can. No one wakes up in the morning with the sole purpose of destroying my day – they’re doing the best they can and sometimes a priority for me isn’t the same priority for them. Two, shit happens. It just does. And the best we can do when it does happen is apologize and do what we can to make it right. And make sure we make it to the next meeting on time – maybe even a few minutes early.

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