The Stories We Tell Ourselves

[Cache #201]

“The story – from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace – is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding.  There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

We love to, and even have to, tell stories.  And according to Crucial Conversations, the book that’s sold two million copies and counting, the most important stories are not the ones we tell to others, but the ones we tell ourselves.

A crucial conversation – defined by the authors as one in which the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong – can happen anytime and anywhere.  Like when you’re having a performance review with your employee or boss.  Or when you’re talking about intimacy issues with your spouse, or behavioural issues with your child.  Or when you’re confronting your roommate – the one genetically disposed to leave the toilet seat up, wear your clothes and steal your food from the fridge.

Whatever the situation, the fact is this:  most of us are not very good at having crucial conversations.  And if we were to master the skill, the quality of our personal and professional lives could be dramatically improved.

Here’s one way in which the authors describe the structure of a crucial conversation.  First, we see and hear what the other person has to say, and how they say it.  Then, in a span so short we may not even be aware of it, we tell ourselves a story about that information.  In turn, that story shapes the way we feel.  And finally, we respond, or otherwise act, on the basis of those feelings.

The key question is, what story are we telling ourselves in that micro-second?  In that heated moment, the range of potential narratives is as wide as humans are complex.  But for example, we might tell ourselves that we are being attacked, or that this person is a moron, or that we’re not good at dealing with this type of situation.

In that moment, we tell ourselves a micro-story.

The bigger question from a branding point of view is: what’s our macro-story?  What, in other words, is the foundational narrative of our lives?  Whatever that narrative is, it will deeply colour the story we self-tell in that crucial moment.

One way of crisply articulating our overall narrative – ultimately shaping the way we see ourselves – is to cement it in a personal brand foundation.  Early next week, I will be working with a group of 40 professionals to establish, for each of them, a three-element brand foundation:

Core purpose – why I do what I do
Position – how I am different
Character – my voice; how I act and look

From experience, I know I’ll be blown away by the emotional, inspirational ways in which these professionals express their self-image.  And that they – like you – see themselves as playing crucial roles in their jobs, personal lives and wider world.

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