Depending on our personal history, values, beliefs, language and culture, we bring a unique perspective to the workplace. Our perspective is what creates the stories we use to justify our behavior for taking or not taking action. These same stories explain our successes and failures and how we deal with others.
Perhaps you’re fearful of approaching your supervisor, afraid to make waves within your department or concerned about traveling alone. By repeatedly telling yourself and staying invested in your original story, you won’t take the risk. The more you tell this story to yourself, the harder it is to discern truth from fantasy. And these stories often take us back to our childhood.
When your co-worker, Haley, just reaches over and borrows your stapler, you may feel she’s being rude. But is it possible that’s also a story based on your own history? Maybe you had a sibling who repeatedly took your clothes without asking and returned them rumpled in a pile. Haley’s actions may push on the same “story” button, but it may simply be that Haley feels connected and close to you and her “story” says girlfriends share everything.
Why does this matter? Without examining where our stories come from and whether they still serve us, we make incorrect assumptions that stop us from living up to our potential and developing outstanding relationships.
The next time you find yourself telling a story to explain your feelings or actions, ask yourself:
1. Is this story completely accurate? Do I have facts to back up my beliefs or are these simply emotional memories?
2. What else could be true? By thinking about it from another angle, it helps you to see where someone else may be coming from.
3. Would it benefit me to assert myself to gain clarity? With Haley you could say, “Even though we’re great friends, I would prefer that you ask to borrow my stapler before taking it from my desk.” If you choose you could add, “Blame it on my sister who had no boundaries and grabbed all my stuff without asking. It pushes an old button!” Either way, it opens the door for a new story.