Over the past weekend, I started reading Brené Brown’s new book Rising Strong who says that “a lot of the stories we tell ourselves just aren’t true.”
Like most people, I am pretty good at making up stories about things that happen. Overtime however, I have learned that if I can change the way I think about the situation, I can change the way I feel and tell a different story. In her new book, Brené Brown talks about the reckoning and encourages readers to “get curious about how your emotions connect with the way you think and behave.”
The iceberg model from David Rock’s book Quiet Leadership is a great visual illustrating that how we think impacts how we feel, how we feel impacts how we behave and contributes to our results.
In the workplace, others typically only see what is above the waterline – our behaviour/actions – as we are acting out our story. Sometimes we have blind spots and don’t see the impact of our behaviour. I have been really lucky to have leaders that were able to help me make the connection. One story in particular stands out where my leader asked me “do you see little hidden messages in your alphabet soup?” which interrupted my story and fostered an important reality check.
The Story: I accepted a new job which was two pay levels higher and a promotion for me. Things were good! Shortly thereafter, a job evaluation process came along and knocked my new job two pay levels backwards. Just like that. Boom!
At first I was devastated and in shock wondering how this could happen, and then the story telling began! I started telling myself stories to try to make sense of what I considered to be a disaster! I told myself that this was a sign that I wasn’t valued, and the work that I had been doing didn’t matter, and that the job evaluation people were probably out to get me! I became a victim on the drama triangle of life and wasn’t sure what to do! I even probably told myself was that I wasn’t going to work as hard anymore because no one appreciated it, or maybe I needed to find another job!
This is a common response where we act out our story. Brené Brown discusses how these stories that we make up can take off and get away from us. She says that:
“when we’re in struggle and uncertainty, our emotions are driving while our thoughts and behavior are in the back seat. If we can’t catch that story and reality-check it, it will take us places we don’t want to go.”
I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to do the reality-check on my own. That’s where my leader came in and with the reality-check and helped me get back on track. When I was telling one of my leaders a version of “my story” about what had happened, he looked at me and said: “Let me ask you a question. Do you see little hidden messages in your alphabet soup?”
I responded that of course I did not … but that was exactly what was happening. I was seeing the little hidden messages in my alphabet soup!
His question however, not only stopped me in my tracks and interrupted the story that I was telling, it provided me with a life lesson and a frame of reference that I have been able to apply to many parts of my life and work. There was also some humour in his question as well, and while maybe not so funny at the time … I can look back and smile knowing that gave me a reality check, and helped me make a shift in my thinking which impacted everything else.
The question and conversation that followed, helped me settle down and “think” logically and recognize that this was just a corporate process and not about me personally! The turning point however, or the most important part, was recognizing that the story I was telling about myself wasn’t true and my job level did not define me.
His coaching fostered awareness, understanding and insight, and transferred ownership to me for action – and I was able to write a new ending to my story!
“Coaching is about expanding people’s capacity to create the desired future. It is not telling people what to do, but asking them to examine the thinking behind what they’re doing so it is consistent with their goals. Coaching is about giving people the gift of your presence, asking questions, and listening.” Robert Hargrove
Shana Ring is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), President of Destination Leadership, and Founder of the EXPEDITION Coaching Program. She focuses on providing leadership coaching, coaching training, and consulting in the area of coaching and culture change, succession planning, leadership development and organizational effectiveness.