Crucial Skills®

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Trainer Insights

Master Your Stories Before They Master You

The introduction to the facilitator manual for Master My Stories suggests that facilitators should not feel bad “if participants don’t give up all their stories by the end of the session. Your goal should be to help people question their assumptions. You want them to assault their stories with questions. You want them to remain curious instead of locking themselves into a story, treating it as a fact, and blindly approaching the situation with silence or violence.”

In her latest book, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says one reason it is so challenging for individuals to give up their story rests on a universal truth: The emotionally flooded brain will always make up stories in the absence of good solid information or data—or as we would say, “facts.” She goes on to suggest that “meaning-making” is part of our anatomy and physiology, particularly when we are angry, scared, or hurt. Under these conditions, our predisposition is to generate a “story that makes sense of what’s happening and gives our brain information on how best to self-protect.”

Brown also refers to Robert Burton, a neurologist who suggests that the brain doesn’t like ambiguity. So, when there is an incomplete story, without a beginning, middle, and end, the brain will reward us with dopamine when we fill in the gap with a good story—“one with clear good guys and bad guys—regardless of the accuracy of the story.” The brain’s default mode is to complete the story, and often we don’t recognize that we’re captive to it.

So, how can we help those attending our training become more vulnerable, peel back the layers of self-justification and rationalization, and work on themselves first rather than others? Of course, part of the answer lies in the exercises and tools incorporated in the toolkit. These are designed to create conditions that yield personal insights, allowing learners to see into their true and often masked motives. However, over the last few months, I have found a final appeal that seems to be working well as a point of summary and reflection.

Following the final application of the Master My Story skills on pages 51 and 52 of the Crucial Conversations toolkit, I give participants a few minutes to share with their learning partner an insight or “aha” from the lesson. Then before moving on to the next lesson, I share with them the following quote from Brown’s book:

“When we own a story and the emotion that fuels it, we get to simultaneously acknowledge that something was hard while taking control of how that hard thing is going to end. We change the narrative. When we deny a story and when we pretend, we don’t makeup stories, the story owns us. It drives our behavior, and it drives our cognition, and then it drives even more emotions until it completely owns us.”

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2 thoughts on “Master Your Stories Before They Master You”

  1. Jeff Grigg

    Maybe instead of asking “How can we help those attending our training become more vulnerable?” we could ask how we can help them feel safe. People who feel safe and self-confident may be more open to voluntarily making themselves vulnerable.

  2. Mary Frances Mika

    Very timely article! This is the next book my online book club is reading!

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