This is the fourth in a series of blog posts inspired by Crucial Conversations, our 2019 theme book that all Members received.  These blogs will help you prepare for our September 19th Breakfast Forum: Best Practices In Family Business Communication.

Do you tell yourself stories?
Does someone say something and suddenly you become emotionally hooked or snagged?

In relationships, as emotional beings, we are always trying to make meaning out of why people do what they do. In the absence of having all the information, it is natural to tell ourselves a story. In our theme book this year, Crucial Conversations, on page 116: Mastering Your Stories, the authors describe three kinds of Clever Stories we tell ourselves: Victim Stories, Helpless Stories, and Villain Stories. Without information or being clear about the facts, it is easy to make an assumption or draw a conclusion about someone’s actions.

In my work with family businesses, telling clever stories is a common occurrence. A question or comment from a family member can send another family member into a tailspin. A phrase or a sentence can hold a history. Without knowing the other’s intention or without information, stories are generated in our heads. If we do not take time to pause (breathe) and be curious about these stories, which can be subjective or flat out false, our emotions can escalate.

To challenge a story, for example, you might say to a family member, “I keep getting stuck on what you said, the story I am telling myself is you don’t trust me to lead this project.”  When you share the story you are telling yourself, you are telling the other person how you are reading the situation. You are also admitting that your perception may not be accurate. It takes vulnerability to share the narrative in your head.  Sharing it conveys to the other person that you want to understand them, manage your emotions, and gain clarity.

When you notice emotions escalating in a conversation, challenge your stories and rely on your curiosity. Other phrases you might practice are:

  • Let’s see if I got this right…
  • I want to understand; what did you mean when you said…
  • Tell me more

We can avoid an onslaught of emotions and unnecessary pain by challenging the stories we tell ourselves and using curiosity to gain clarity.

To learn more about understanding our stories and how to lean into awkward, productive conversations with your family, register today for our Best Practices in Family Business Communication event on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Trina Stutzman

Leadership Coach

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