We are disturbed not by the things that happen, but by our opinion of the things that happen. ~ Epictetus
Our actions are guided by our perceptions and feelings. Interpersonal conflicts are primarily due to differences in perceptions and emotional attachment to our perceived reality of the situation! There are many books written on tools to challenge our perceptions. One of the best tools I have read is in the book ‘Crucial Conversations’ called ‘Path to Action’. The path to action has 4 steps and it’s a brilliant way to succinctly articulate our behavior patterns.
- See and Observe
- Tell a Story
Let’s say a manager is passing by the pantry and his team members are laughing their hearts out. Seeing the manager enter the pantry, they all try to muffle their laughter and slowly stop. The moment he is out, they burst into laughter again. The manager observes this and tells a story in his mind. One story may be the team was talking about him and making fun of his leadership style. If this is the story narrated by the manager, certainly he will feel hostile towards the team and specifically towards the person who was leading the laughter club. How do you think the manager will behave with his team members? Definitely his feelings of hostility will influence his behavior and the way he treats his team.
When we know that we are not natural and influenced by negative feelings in behavior, we can use this tool to elevate our awareness. We just have to rehash the story, look for facts and go backwards!
Once the manager becomes aware of his biased action, he can ask the following questions to validate his story.
What feelings are influencing my action now? (Anger, hostility, frustration etc)
What story am I telling myself to induce these feelings? (Revisit the story, in this case the story of his team laughing at him)
What facts did I see or observe to validate this story? (Did he hear them take his name? What other facts did he consider to arrive at his conclusion?)
The above questions really help us validating out stories and understand the role of perceptions. Instead of driven by feelings, now rational thinking will be in driver’s seat. When dealing with interpersonal conflicts, remember each person has their own story, perception and feeling! Actions are fruits of perceptions!