Master My Stories. This is the most complex chapter in Crucial Conversations to date. The authors describe a “path” that leads to healthy actions, which requires that I first accurately describe my actions and the emotions underlying those actions. After that, I must identify the “story” I am telling myself to justify those feelings, then analyze what I actually saw and heard.
Here’s an example from my life. As a resource teacher, I was serving a student who was identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder by a psychiatrist. He had also experienced considerable psychological distress in his past, having been abandoned by his parents and subsequently adopted by his grandparents. From the outset of my interventions with him, I successfully used strategies which are considered best practices for ASD kids. He did relatively well for his first several years of school, but experienced gradually increasing anxiety related to relationships with others. About this time, he was reevaluated and as a school-based committee, we had to decide on an appropriate label. I became angry and defensive when it was suggested that he receive a label based on emotional disabilities instead of autism. I heard secondhand that my principal was furious with me for arguing with the school psychologist in front of his family.
I had fallen into a trap described by the authors of Crucial Conversations. I thought I felt angry; I did react defensively. If I had been able to more accurately define my feelings, I would have seen fear and hurt. Why? I was telling myself a story something like this: “My work with this student is considered unsound. My judgment is being unfairly criticized and a major assessment administered to this kid is just plain wrong.” What evidence did I have to support my story? Well, my work with him was praised and suggested that I had been on the right track. The “gold standard” of ASD identification did not identify this student as autistic. He did have a history of serious emotional problems. The path I chose did not lead to any healthy conversations! But I apologized to the school psychologist, who responded graciously. We restarted our conversations and ended up with a primary label of Autism and a secondary label of Emotional Disturbance. Live and learn!