Do not go out hastily to argue your case; Otherwise, what will you do in the end, When your neighbor humiliates you? 📚Proverbs 25:8 NASB
Hey guys! Welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast; this is your host Ree. This season, we’ve been talking about communication—specifically how to handle difficult conversations. This season was inspired by the book Crucial Conversations which has been a major game changer for me in how I approach conversations. Today, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite take-aways from this book: the power of controlling the narrative in our mind.
Back when I was little, I used to watch a ton of cartoons. Many of these cartoons employ the technique of showing the main character in conversation with a miniature version of themself dressed as an angel as well as the devil. The angel gives good advice and the devil tells them to do the wrong thing. Usually the character listens to the devil and does the wrong thing because that’s what makes for an entertaining show—that’s probably a different conversation about the message Hollywood sends us as kids, though. Even as a kid, we see this as gimmicky and as we grow into adults this concept kind of fades in to our subconscious as a cartoon fantasy. But that’s actually how we tend to process information…
About a year or two ago, I received a random facebook message from a woman I barely know. She and I attended the same church services in Florida but we never really interacted. Aside from the standard pleasantries, we’ve never actually had a conversation, so I was shocked to see I had received a message from this person. The message was only a link to a sermon. There was no text from the sender. When I listened to the sermon, it was telling singles that the reason they are single is because they aren’t working or they aren’t doing the work God called them to do. As you can probably guess, I did not react well.
The narrative that formed in my head was that she sent me the link because she thought I need to hear that message. From that, the inference is that she is telling me I am single because I’m not working hard enough or because I’m not doing the work God has called me to do. This narrative made me defensive. I began to think of all the ways I was involved with the church body, in community service, in my professional work. I began dwelling on the question of how she even knew I was single considering we hadn’t ever had a real conversation, we had spent the last year and a half in a pandemic where no one saw each other, and I had left the state entirely. I remember thinking this was exactly why people dislike “church folk.” “Church folk” are presumptuous and judgmental without bothering to ever form real relationships with people… This train of thought continued and plunged me in to a negative mindset.
Luckily, I had enough sense to know that I wasn’t in the headspace to respond, so I just ignored it.
A few days later, new narratives started to pop up. At the church we attended, I had been a youth teacher and a leader in the young adult ministry. Despite her lack of communication, it was possible that she sent me the video to share with one or both of the groups. There was also the possibility that she found out about PSALMS to God and listened to the podcast or watched the YouTube channel, causing her to feel she knew me better than she actually did. Perhaps the sermon reminded her of something I said on the podcast or maybe she just thought I’d find it interesting since I like to look at different angles and interpretations. Maybe it wasn’t her saying “you need to hear this” so much as “I think you’ll find this interesting.”
Choosing Your Narrative
Since reading the chapter in Crucial Conversations, I realize that I do have a devil and an angel crafting a story around the conversation. That narrative steers how I handle the conversation, so if I want to be in control of my conversations I need to be in control of the narrative I tell myself.
The first narrative to pop in your head is usually based on prior experience. If you pay close attention here, it’ll reveal biases. For instance, I know that “church people” can be condescending and judge-y, so my first instinct was to assume that narrative in the example I gave. Those of us with short tempers will likely notice that our first instinct is usually a negative narrative.
What I’m not going to suggest is that we always overcorrect by assuming the positive. It’s important to realize a positive narrative can exist, but the truth is both extremes are figments of our own creation. Either could be spot on truths, but both could be wrong. The only way to know for certain is to have the person confirm or deny. Take my example, the only way to know why she sent me that link is to explicitly ask her. However, when I was choosing to believe the negative narrative, I couldn’t think of a nice way to ask the question (and if I had only thought of the more positive narrative, I may not have ever thought to ask). I needed to realize my initial instinct wasn’t necessarily reality to keep me level headed.
In conversations, we have the choice to continue or stop. On social media (like in the example), I tend to choose the positive narrative and let it go. So, no, I never asked why she sent me the link. In text forms I usually lean toward misunderstood tone and move on. However, in face to face conversations (and in some text conversations), we can’t just choose what we want to believe and walk away. Many conversations require a resolution. These are the cases where it is particularly important that we realize we are concocting narratives in our head. Let the knowledge of that bring you back to center, and instead of choosing a narrative, choose reality. Instead of letting the narrative dictate your demeanor and tone, steer the conversation such that you are creating a narrative based in reality instead of your mind. Ask for clarification (e.g., I’m not sure why you sent me this). Express how you feel (e.g., I feel like you’re making assumptions about my work ethic). Allow them to set the record straight.
Thanks for tuning in! As always feel free to leave me a message, like, share, subscribe, etc. and I will see you guys next time. Bye!
References and Footnotes
- Joseph Grenny and Kerry Patterson. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. August 1, 2013
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