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Five Ways to Answer Negative Stories

Negative stories produce emotions that close your mind and harm your relationships.

Emotions don’t know the difference between true stories or fiction. Video games, movies, and novels produce strong emotional responses. Horror movies produce real fear, even though there’s no real danger.


Years ago, my email signature file was an Edward De Bono quote, “Those who think they know, don’t.” A director where I worked asked me a question via email. My signature file infuriated him. He told himself the story that I put it there for him.

The fantasies you make up about the behavior of others produce real feelings.

He called me in and chewed me out. I tried to explain that the quote was on all my emails. We went around the conversation three times before he was able to let it go, even a little.

Once you tell yourself an emotion-producing story, you cling to that emotion and validate the story, even if it’s a fiction.

You not them:

The stories you tell yourself about others are about you. You might blame others for your negative feelings, but, in the end, those feelings are yours.

The story you tell and the emotion it causes may be a complete fiction.

5 ways to answer negative stories you tell yourself:

  1. Courageously tell your stories, rather than impose your judgments. “I saw what Bill did and told myself he was being arrogant and selfish.”
  2. Open your heart to hear another’s story, even when you have already made up your mind. Justify their story, rather than yours.
  3. Explore stories when solving conflict. “What stories are we telling ourselves about …?”
  4. Choose positive stories first. Assume the best about others.
  5. Seek clarification when troubled. 

How might leaders deal with the emotions that are attached to fictitious stories we tell ourselves?

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