Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fact, story, feeling.

*Hypothetical* Scenario:

I'm trying to deliver a mini-lecture in chemistry biology--droning on about exciting things like chemical weights or the molecular structure of DNA.

Two students are having a conversation between themselves while I talk.

I get upset and reprimand them (mildly) in front of the whole class.

Or maybe it wasn't in class. Maybe it was the other night when my wife made an off hand comment that offended me and I got upset and kicked in the silent treatment.

In both cases I thought that what was upsetting me were the things I observed--the facts of the case: the talking in class or the offhand comment. But that's not true. What upset me was the story I told myself about the facts.
I really just upset myself.

According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, an awesome audio program I've been listening to, it works like this: We observe something. We interpret it--we tell a story to explain it. Then we feel something, based on our story.

Facts don't lead directly to emotions.

Facts lead to stories in our heads, and those stories lead to emotions.

When I saw the students talking, that was a fact. Then the story kicked in: They are being rude. They are disrespectful. There are just challenging my authority, trying to make me look like a fool in front of the other students. Then the emotions kick in: I feel threatened, irritated, angry even. And then I act... and cause damage.

Instead, what I need to do is follow my emotions backwards down that path and notice the story I'm telling myself, and question it, and then make up a different, kinder story. And then watch my feelings soften.

What if I found out one of their mothers was deathly ill? Or what if I could put myself in their shoes and feel again just how difficult it is to be a teenager (or just how exciting it is to be a teenager), or just how excruciatingly boring my lectures are?

And maybe my wife just had a really rough day? Or maybe she simply wanted to spend time with me and I was glued to the computer (not that that happens...).

Funny thing is, these kinder stories are much more likely to be true.

And the result is more positive climates and stronger relationships.

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