Change your story for better outcomes…



Do you ever fly off the handle?  Have you ever had the experience of saying something that you’d later regret?  For most of us, it happens in the heat of an argument or after something has happened that makes you angry (or upset).  Your emotions can drive you to an outcome that isn’t in your best interests.

And often those anger-fueled outcomes can be pretty devastating – damaged relationships, lost opportunities.  

But what if  there was a way to manage those feelings (as opposed to having them manage you)?  The authors of Crucial Conversations have spent the last 30+ years researching the impact that emotions have on dialogue and they’ve uncovered a model that can help you avoid (or at least minimize) an emotionally fueled outburst.


Master My Stories

You don’t have to be overwhelmed by your emotions.  Research (and experience) tells us that there is a path to action that we all take, whether we realize it or not, and that path doesn’t work the way we might expect. 

It turns out, your emotions, what you feel, are not a direct response to something that was said or something that happened.  There’s a step in-between. Your emotions are generated by the story you tell yourself – your interpretation of what happened.



It starts with the facts, (what you actually see and hear).  From there, we all tell ourselves a story to help make sense of those facts and it’s that story that generates our emotions which leads to potential actions. 

But here’s the thing – you have a choice about which story you tell yourself and you can CHOOSE to go with a story that generates a positive outcome rather than a negative one. 

Quick example – you get cut off in traffic by someone driving quickly.  Your default story might be that they’re just a thoughtless, reckless driver leading you to feel anger.  However, what if they’re rushing to get to the hospital to help their spouse who’s just been injured? With that story, you’d likely feel empathy and maybe even feel moved to help in some way.


Retrace your path – find a different story

But how do  you go about managing this? During a discussion you might notice that emotion is driving your actions in a way that’s not productive (tough to do, but certainly possible).  When that happens, it’s possible to mentally take a step back and retrace your path to action. The idea is to go all the way back to the hard facts (what actually happened) and see if you can’t come up with a different story – and therefore more productive emotions.

Here’s an example:  I am tempted to say something mean to my friend because I’m angry (feeling).  I’m angry because they clearly don’t care about our relationship (story) because they didn’t show up to the group dinner last night (fact).  I notice that I’m mad and about to say something that I’ll regret.

By retracing my path, I can get back to the facts of the story (they didn’t show up to dinner) and then figure out if there are any other potential explanations (stories) that are reasonable and not as inflammatory. Once you get to the facts, it’s easier to imagine a story that gives them the benefit of the doubt, which allows you to remain calm – and to have a productive discussion.

What do you think?  Have you ever thought about how emotions are generated?  Or if you could have more control over that process?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach