Story Time

My wife Charla and I were home one evening this week for “Netflix and Chill”, but since Season 4 of Better Call Saul doesn’t start streaming until this weekend, we decided maybe we could “Netflix and Challenge” instead. In our house “Netflix and Challenge” means watching something other than empty-calorie entertainment—the TV equivalent of selecting a plate of vegetables instead of a package of Oreos (we are looking at you, reruns of The Office or Law and Order)…

So we browsed a couple of documentary and “grown-up” movie titles and found one we could agree on: “Call to Courage”, a 2019 documentary featuring Brene Brown. I had watched it a few months ago by myself, but I like listening to Brene and thought it would be good to watch together. If you have not seen the film or her famous TED Talk, she studies and writes about vulnerability, shame and empathy. In her presentations she tells great stories with lots of humor and emotion. Since my wife and I are both near career inflection points these days, we thought it would be a hearty meal for our professional minds and souls.

Long story short—the movie was great, and much more fulfilling than binging on The Office, L & O, or House Hunters. After debriefing with Charla, the biggest idea we took from Brown was learning how our brains create narratives to help make the world make sense. It’s not always conscious—it’s part of a neurobiological protection system, which is great, except the narratives we make up do not always match reality.

Brown explained how this brain function works for us with a nifty phrase she uses with her own researchers: “The story I am telling myself is…” In a touching anecdote she shared an emotional conversation with her husband on a family vacation. Each of the couple had strongly different perceptions and reactions about a simple verbal exchange. Assumptions, inferences, and imagined wrongs got in the way, but by becoming vulnerable and sharing each of their “stories”, they reached a true understanding and a deeper relationship.

So what stories are we telling ourselves? How do our own personality preferences and personal histories affect the plotlines we write? Do we make people who think or act like us the heroes, and set up those that are different to be villains? What tools are we using to help us as we discover and tell our own stories and connect to our colleagues and teammates?

Over the past several years I have been blessed to hear many stories from individuals and teams in a climate of heightened self-awareness. It is possible to learn about ourselves and our coworkers to adapt and communicate more effectively. Trust based on vulnerability and a willingness to give and receive honest feedback becomes an integral part of teamwork. If you would like to hear more please give me shout—I’m glad to share my own story with you, and listen to yours as well.

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