Once Upon a Time

Originally published on LinkedIN 8/9/18  see it here

By John R. Nocero and Jennifer S. Rawley

John: I love Cy Wakeman! I’ve never met her, but I feel like I have. She has been a professional mentor to me through words and videos since 2014. One thing she says is, “we’ve come to accept drama as a cost of doing business. We’ve simply accepted the conventional wisdom that if you have people, you will deal with some drama and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

I hate drama. My life is a drama-free zone. I hate drama more when I unknowingly cause it through self-destructive behaviors and thoughts. Writing things down can help you tune into these behaviors, especially those that you convince yourself are true, which really aren’t true at all.

Case in point – you are in the break room heating up your lunch. A co-worker walks in. You say hello but your co-worker ignores you. You get angry inside, say something like “so-and-so always is nasty, he/she never liked me. No one likes me here. I should just quit. Maybe I can find a new job today. I will go to the job board this afternoon and start applying for new jobs. ” Then you go to the job board, start applying for new jobs, completely ignoring the project that was due at 5pm. All because you invented a story in your own head, and then decided you should believe it and act on those false beliefs. Smooth move, Cliff.

Tuning out your storytelling thoughts is difficult. Sometimes, you get so enmeshed in a situation that it is hard to stop your mind from reeling. What do you do?

Jen: I used to pride myself on being a good reader of people and situations. Sometimes I still do. However, I’ve also found that such quick judgment should be reserved for urgent situations. More times than I can remember, I have jumped to quick conclusions (sometimes when it wasn’t even necessary) out of impatience or sheer haste. Sometime later I will find out new information that would have altered my initial decision. Most of us have fallen victim to something like this but it still stings a little each time.

Worse perhaps than being upset with myself when I make hasty decisions, I can feel betrayed or angry with someone else. I typically trust people, and I hate it when they break that trust. So many times, people that I trusted have come to me making outlandish claims that I (at first) believed. Fortunately, I have lived by the motto “trust but verify,” so in most cases it only cost me time, effort, and trust. Even so, during the verification process, I often end up chasing down a lot of rabbit holes. Most of these people don’t even consider themselves liars or storytellers, rather they think they are speaking the truth. They are so caught up in their own drama they have failed to acknowledge the difference in what they believe and what is factual.

Case in point – my story time: Once upon a time, in a land far, far away in approximately 1985 (for the sake of anonymity), there was a middle manager who reported to one of my direct reports. Following a frustrating shift at work, she contacted the compliance officer of the organization about several issues. On a side note, she did not previously come to me with the issues and many of them were new to my direct report as well. She gave us very little time to do anything before jumping to compliance. As with all such claims, I took them very seriously and completed a thorough investigation. For the record, I take all claims seriously. Calling compliance only makes it more stressful for everyone involved. The investigation took close to a week to conclude, which ended up being about six and a half days too long for her liking, despite the fact that the allegations numbered in the dozens. Aside from the sheer volume of allegations, there was a microscopic shred of truth within (or as a foundation to) a lot of it. This complicated it in a new sort of way – and I learned a lot of hard lessons that week.

At the end of it all, I was unable to substantiate much of anything. There were a few items that were entirely subjective, so I acquiesced as much to her, but overwhelmingly she was off point. I got nothing else done that entire week, I had to suspend some other staff members pending the investigation who ended up having done nothing wrong, and it prevented me from doing a lot of other things that quite frankly were more important. To make it worse, at the end of it all, she said she wanted to recant her accusations. The week had given her time to reconsider and she realized that she was self-described hyper-emotional about some things . I truly don’t think some people realize the impact that their storytelling has or can have on other people.

I fully echo what John says, I also hate drama. I used to refuse to “play the game,” and after a hard fought battle with the real world, I surrendered. I realized that refusal to play equated to holding my breath to make a point, eventually I would be forced to take a breath and there was no way I could hold it forever without my autonomic nervous system forcing me to do so. Its the same with drama or stories (or whatever you like to call it), there is no fully avoiding it. Some people play nice in the sandbox, some throw it in your eyes. Some people seem to need the drama to give their life meaning. It’s rare a day goes by that I don’t shake my head and think to myself “how do some people make it through life?” I try to learn from the experiences I’ve had weather they were mistakes that I have made such as jumping to conclusions and trusting too easily or mistakes of others when they have done the same.

John & Jen: It is important to get out of your own head and into the facts. Don’t judge your own feelings. They are yours. Own them but at the same time, only trust the things you know to be true. After all, if those things can survive your rigorous questioning, they must be rooted in fact. Everything else, is just a story. Delete the story. Burn it. discard it. Blow it up. Drop it. Focus the facts solely on your reality and ask yourself, what is the very next thing that I can do to add value? Once you define it, do it and follow through with action.