How adding motives and stories to your emotions impact meaningful conversations?

Have you ever lost your cool? Or gotten mad at someone’s behavior? Or felt a surge of anger during a conversation with someone?

Did you know that these emotional outbursts impact the quality of conversations you have with others?  Did you know that it negatively impacts your emotional well-being?

All of us go through myriad emotions when we are in a conversation with others or in a social setting.  Some conversations really turn bad or violent

richard-lee-9ME5tBjVyMQ-unsplashbecause of our inability to set aside the emotions and focus on the facts or data.  Separating the ‘facts’ from ‘fiction’ of your emotions is what you need to do to take charge and have meaningful conversations which lead to positive outcome. 

Let me explain this using the following two examples.

Situation 1

My boss and I had worked extensively on a presentation to our senior management team.  We had decided that each of us will handle parts of the presentation.  What transpired during the presentation was contrary to our agreement and I just got cheesed off by my boss’s behavior.  He took over the entire presentation and also the parts which I was supposed to present.  Towards the end of the meeting the management team asked me what I had to say.  The problem was I had nothing to say as all was done and dusted.  My boss took the entire credit.  I was angry and was fuming at this slight.

I started to imagine and attach motives to the already swelled up emotion.  “has he done it deliberately? Why did he do it or what made him do this to me?  He has done this earlier as well.  He is so insecure that he meted out this treatment to me just to score a brownie point.  He doesn’t trust me. He is such an insensitive moron.  If he wanted some credit he could have asked me to stay away and I would have gladly done.  Going back on his commitment, I feel cheated.”

Now you notice that as a keep doing this self-talk, I started to believe these stories and motives as facts.  In order to confirm my beliefs about my boss, I also start making statements like “he is so self-centered and it is really a fact!  Ask anyone in the office and they would agree.”

You will notice that these are very subjective and ten different people would come out of such a meeting with different conclusions and emotions.  That he was wanting to take credit or he is insecure or he wanted to score a brownie point is not a fact, it was only my story which I started to add to my already rising anger.  This really turned the possibility of having a meaningful conversation with my boss post that meeting remote.  I kept fuming, avoiding and reacting to him in ways which would in turn hurt him.  I wanted to teach him a lesson.  The point is “I myself was not willing to learn”

If you notice the statement “He doesn’t trust me” is a conclusion or judgment.  It only explains what I think of what my boss did.  Conclusions are subjective and stories which we have built in our mind.  Unless you have a one on one conversation, how on earth would you know the fact?

Many critical dialogue fall apart as we keep judging and attaching motives as people speak to us.  We try to imagine agendas behind each statement made by the other person which may not be true at all.

Situation 2

My mother-in-law was on a visit during the weekend.  I always prefer to catch up on some movies, have a relaxed day, laze around and do nothing.  I look forward to the weekends to just unwind after week after week of grueling work.  Being in sales and the pressure of targets used to keep me on the edge and I used to be always at the tipping point of an outburst.  My wife understands this and keeps a distance and doesn’t engage with me unless I call for.

All of a sudden this happened.  My mother-in-law made a comment that the house was so disorganized and the console area needs cleaning.  How could you guys be living in these conditions.  This was directed at her daughter.

I got furious and started to add motives around her statement.  I pulled my wife aside and told her that she was deliberately slighting me and wanting to show that I am unclean and don’t know how to keep my place.  She has done this in the past as well and I’ve noticed that she keeps picking on me.  It shows how she despises me.  She never wanted you to marry me.  Oh! these wild stories kept building up on an already emotional mind and led to me and my wife having a war of silence for the next few hours till her mom left our place.

The statement that “my mother-in-law despises me” was just a conclusion in my mind and was probably not a fact.  I allowed these stories to build up and negatively impact my emotions to an extent that whole of my weekend got spoiled.  I hated my mother-in-law visiting our place and ticked off my wife as well.

I am not suggesting that all conclusions are wrong.  Some are accurate based on hard facts and move us in a positive direction.  But some are quite inaccurate and not true which only go to justify our current state or behavior and make us feel good temporarily.  It’s the second type which gets us into a lot of trouble.  It keeps confirming to us that it’s others who are at fault and we don’t need to change ourselves.

These are the situations in which we allow our stories to take control and lead our emotions.  If you ever want to have a meaningful dialogue, you must learn to separate the ‘fact’ from the ‘fiction’.  The moment you are overcome by emotions, you should quickly ask yourself “is the story real or am I imagining?”  “Am I attaching motives to my feelings without validating with hard data / facts?”

This should do the trick and make most of your conversations meaningful.

Have you been a victim of adding stories to your feelings / emotions?  How have they impacted you?

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