We received an unexpected resignation from a valued team member at work last week. Two of us immediately started wondering what we did to make her leave. We totally made the story about us, even if it wasn't. When we asked her, we found out her decision didn't have to do anything with her working relationships; in fact, she was extremely sad to be leaving.
This jump-to-conclusions approach reminded me of an episode of the Meanwhile podcast I listened to earlier this year, titled "Narratives & Alternative Narratives." The episode description captures the essence of the program: "What kind of stories are you telling about yourself, and is it time to question them? We carry narratives in our heads that summarize what we think of our successes, our failures, our feelings, our hopes."
The podcasters, Michael Melcher and Michael Terrell, described how when you immediately jump to one explanation or story, you can stop yourself by saying, "I could easily create an alternative narrative that..." It works!
This weekend my daughter and I were in NYC to see The Phantom of the Opera. Before the show, we were meeting with my cousin and his girlfriend for lunch. We arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule. 12:00 rolled around, then 12:05, and they weren't there. That was okay, but considering we had just texted less than 30 minutes earlier, my head immediately went to "Oh no! We are in the wrong place." I actually pulled out my phone to double-check the location but stopped myself. "I could easily create another narrative that they are just running a few minutes late. I could easily create another narrative that it just took them a few more minutes to get here than they thought. I could easily create another narrative that they just aren't that timely." I felt better. And minutes later, they walked in, told us the restaurant was a few blocks farther than they had originally thought, and we had a lovely lunch. I was grateful I hadn't worked myself up too much.
I've used this type of strategy with client-related challenges as well. Often when I don't hear back from a prospective client on a proposal I've sent by the time they've told me I'd hear from them, I jump to, "They are going with another vendor." But considering alternative narratives (that it is taking longer to decide than they originally anticipated, that they are coming up with a list of questions, that they haven't had a chance to review the proposal yet) helps me get out of my stinking thinking.
This is not about lying to ourselves. It's actually to prevent us from believing the first thought we have, and exploring so we might find the truth. It helps us challenge our assumptions and to make sure we're not slaves to the stories we're telling. As the podcasters asked in the episode, "Do you have your narrative or does the narrative have you?"
Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash