Diane was new to the job and was having a problem with a co-worker named Matt. The team that Diane was leading needed Matt’s expertise for their health-care project, but he didn't show up for team meetings. He would miss one team meeting after another, always for seemingly good reasons. Diane heard from others on the team that Matt was arrogant, anti-social and notoriously difficult to work with. Diane and her boss met with Matt and talked to him directly about the advantages of his participating on the team, but nothing changed.
During a coaching session, I asked Diane to answer these questions about Matt:
• What is he committed to? What motivates him?
• What do you have in common with him?
• In what ways do you respect him?
From her answers to these questions, she realized that Matt was very committed to making things right for the patients, above all else. She remembered meeting him when she worked at another facility and admiring how dedicated he was. She felt that the two of them shared that dedication and simply had different ways of showing it. Lastly, she realized that maybe not everyone has to be a team player. She decided to meet with Matt and find out more about him and what was important to him. She also thought of ways to include Matt independently without having to insist that he attend team meetings.
As a result of changing her "story" about Matt, her experience of him changed drastically. She has been able to establish a strong partnership with him. He calls her with his input and they are now able to work productively together.
Stories Shape Our Lives
Stories like the one Diane had are the fabric of life. We weave stories together together to explain things that happen in our lives and in the lives of others. Then we believe our own stories. In fact, our belief in the stories we make up are so ingrained, that we generally think of the stories as facts and might even say, “That’s not a story, that’s my life!” or, as Diane had done, “That’s no story, that’s what he’s like!”
Our stories shape reality. They can empower or discourage us, set our feet forward or stop us cold in our tracks.
What stories do you tell?
Start to listen to your own stories about yourself, your co-workers, spouse, friends and family. Listen to what you say and start to observe the effect your stories have on you and others.
Are your stories serving you? If not, then get some help from a coach or from a good friend who won’t simply agree with you. Ask the questions that will help you find a different story so you can see things differently. When you can see things differently, you will be able to find new, more empowering possibilities for action. Just by changing your story, you can change everything.
If you are going to tell a story, make it an empowering one.
For over 20 years Susan has been a coach, consultant and corporate trainer. She is the co-founder of the Coach Group of Switzerland.