Have you ever had a situation where someone completely misunderstood or misinterpreted something you said?
Yeah, me too. It happens ALL the time to just about everyone.
However, I’m fortunate to say it doesn’t happen as much for me anymore. Why? Because I adopted a system a while back that encourages more awareness and open communication with others. It’s a mental model built around introspection.
Introspection is the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.
This system involves asking one simple question –
“What story am I telling myself?”
Let me elaborate.
In any given situation your mind will start telling you a story. This is especially true in scenarios of potential conflict, decision making, and any conversation where ambiguity can present itself. In other words, you are unsure of the something.
A few examples:
Your friend doesn’t text you back within an hour of receiving your text message.
“Hmmm… I wonder if they’re mad at me? Did I forget their wedding anniversary or something? No, they got married in the summer. Shit… when’s the last time I texted them? They usually text me. Did I respond to their last text? No, I didn’t… and now I’m finally asking for something. Yep, they’re probably mad at me. Damn, they’re probably pissed. Do they even value me as a friend anymore?”
You leave a meeting with a team member unsure of how they handled your feedback.
“Man, they seemed kind of upset. Was I too direct? Did I hurt their feelings? I better email them and make sure they understood what I said. No, then they may dwell on this and get even more upset. I’ll just send them a Slack message with a smiley to smooth things over. No… that might annoy them. It’ll be fine. They’ll forget about this next week. Or will they?”
You post something on social media that nobody likes.
“WTF. Why hasn’t anybody liked this? Was it stupid to post? No, I thought people would love this. But nobody is doing anything… should I delete it? Yeah, let’s take it down. But wait… then some people who’ve already seen it might wonder why I took it down. Then I’ll look like an idiot…”
Starting to get the point?
Our mind is telling ourselves stories all day long. Sometimes they are little meaningless stories. Other times they are larger intense stories that can hijack our entire day. There’s no avoiding this – your mind is going to tell you stories.
However, the validity of the story is usually arguable if there’s someone besides you involved. In other words, we tend to tell ourselves false stories when other people are involved. All of the examples I referenced above are examples of stories I’ve told myself based on assumptions of others.
And this is where it gets interesting…
They are probably telling themselves a different story! I have my stories and you have your stories. Our different stories rarely align unless we’re really effective communicators. This is why humans have so many issues with each other. Things get lost in translation. This is where a lot of drama comes from.
How to resolve story drama
It’s easy for us to get lost in the drama of the stories we tell ourselves. Most of us do this and it creates a lot of stress and anxiety in our lives… but there’s a better way to live!
Instead of getting lost in the story that your mind is creating, stop and ask yourself the question –
“What story am I telling myself?”
Next, check the validity by asking if it’s true or not. In other words, can you prove that this story is true? In some situations it may be true, in which case, evidence is provided and you may consider this a fact (not a story).
However, in many cases we’ll find that the story is not something we can prove to be true. It’s often a subjective or speculative thought. If you cannot prove it to be true, the goal is to explain your story in an open and honest way. This part can take courage and trust if the story is juicy or dramatic.
For example, you may be telling yourself a deep story that evokes intense emotions around fear, anger or sadness. This can come in the form of potentially hurting someone’s feelings, carrying guilt or shame from a situation, thinking we offended someone, etc. Ultimately, these are usually the stories that manifest and become hard to resolve. They can also cause a lot of wasted anxiety if you suppress or hide them.
And that’s exactly why you should consider facing them. Instead of burying yourself in the speculative drama, acknowledge the story with a conscious mindset.
It’s actually quite simple to share your story with someone else. Just find the courage to say the following:
“The story I’m telling myself is ________________.”
This is your opportunity to explain what you’re thinking so the other person has some context. Be open and honest with warm candor. Keep the narrative focused on your internal dialog and how it makes you feel. This isn’t about them, it’s about you. You have to own that and communicate it clearly.
“The story I’m telling myself is that you left that conversation quite upset. I feel tension and want to make sure my words didn’t offend you. That was not my intention. My intention was to ________________.”
If done properly, they have the opportunity to reciprocate and help resolve your story. They may share that some or most of your story is true, or they may share that it’s entirely false. Either way, with this practice we’re starting to open up better communication.
Less stories and more truth.
This type of practice can take time to implement with others. Not everyone is ready for all the stories you’re telling yourself! So, my humble advice is to start small and ease your way into it. Find some smaller stories to resolve before you unpack a juicy argument.
Put some reps in and get a hang for sharing your stories 🙂
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.