I want to wake you up to, or perhaps alert you to, a way we are that I believe causes us to sabotage most of our relationships. I believe what I’m about to say is what we do because I’ve come to realize that I do it and in my world, if I do it, you likely do it to. So here goes and let me know.
We’ll start with my observation that we have a “story” about almost everyone in our life. In other words, we don’t just observe other people and stay completely neutral about who they are, we make up, not necessarily realizing that we do it, a “story” about who they are. And here’s the worst part about this: the story tends to be critical and judgmental. But even when the story is nice or loving, that’s not so great either.
So, for example, we might call just about anyone lazy, forgetful, unfriendly, talkative, self centered, uncommitted, arrogant, tardy, inconsiderate, and on and on. Got the picture? And, of course, you do know you do this. Right? Here’s the problem: whenever you do this, who that person becomes for you is the character in your story. Whether you’re right or not about your story, you have, as a practical matter, killed this person off. I know those are strong words, but the practical effect of labeling people this way is that they have no possibility around you to be any different.
I think back about my father. My story about him was that he was cold and indifferent. So do you think I ever made an attempt to be loving with him? Of course not. Might it have worked if I tried? I’ll never know because I just didn’t.
I worked with a family business once where the father employed three of his children. The older and younger of the two were hard workers but the middle son seemed to have no ambition and was drifting. The father’s story about this son was that he could not stand on his own two feet and that if he treated him like any other under achieving employee and let him go, who knows what he might do. The father even thought he might commit suicide.
Needless to say, this story didn’t allow him to do exactly what he needed to do, let the son go, so he stayed on doing virtually nothing and contributing little. This surely wasn’t in the best interests of the son, who now learned nothing about accountability, and created huge resentment on the part of his two brothers who felt he was taking advantage of their dad and getting away with behaviors they didn’t like or agree with.
We conducted a retreat for the management team and one of the biggest challenges was to get the older son to forgive his brother for his past behavior so they could wipe the slate clean and create a fresh beginning. Once the story gets created, we tend to collect evidence and the story not only becomes a story, it becomes the truth.
I assert that if you look around you, you will likely see that you indeed have a story about everyone in your life. And if you look deeply, I suspect you’ll see that to a large degree, it’s both critical and judgmental.
So what’s the alternative? And is there one? Yes! If you want to have not only good but amazing relationships with the people in your life, let go of your stories. Start to relate to people as a possibility. Literally make believe you have no clue who they are and get curious about finding out. Can you imagine coming home from work and wondering who your spouse and children will be today? Think about the excitement as you walk in the door wondering who will be there to great you. And you know what? This isn’t as strange as you might think because the fact of the matter is that people are always changing. You relating to them as a possibility gives them the freedom to do that.
Same with work. Let go of your stories about all the people you work with. Walk into work being curious about who will show up today. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Trust that if you let go of your judgments and opinions, they will show up really great. And you know what? If you do that, that’s exactly what likely will happen!