Are you a winner? Lucky? The person to beat? The responsible one? The go to person? The person everyone takes for granted? Or are your stories about yourself more negative? We all have an internal story about our lives that we use to set our course of action. Most of us don’t know our full story, yet we lead with it nonetheless.
For example, we worked with a client who came in saying that he just couldn’t get any respect from his business partner. He said that the guy had a good business head…but was arrogant and always had to be right – a real bully. Curious to learn more, we asked him to tell us the story of one example when he was bullied into making a decision that he didn’t want to make.
“We met in the morning over breakfast – at 0800 hours. You know the type, right? He was already there of course, probably got there at 0-dark-thirty just to make sure I appeared to be late. Anyway, he’s already got his coffee and starts talking at me. I’m trying to get the waiter’s attention to order a cup of coffee so that I can get my brain started when he starts throwing numbers at me. You know, it’s like he’s reciting a spreadsheet from heart and I think, crap, it’s gonna be one of those meetings. I admit I’m not a numbers guy so I just say ‘uh huh.’ So then he gets annoyed with me and says, ‘Clearly you don’t understand the gravity of the situation.’ (Still no waiter, still no coffee, so I try to flag down the busboy.) And he says, ‘Come on – you really need to pay attention. We need to cut down on expenses and the best way to do that is to pull (project x) so I’m going to need you to tell your team to stop working on that and to stop wasting time on stuff that isn’t bringing money in the door. Look, I’m running late for another meeting, so I’m gonna run but get back to me later today with how you are gonna get your team more involved or we are gonna have to start letting some of them go.’ So then he gets up and leaves the table, the waiter brings my coffee and I think to myself – what the hell just happened here?”
Our client explained that this type of interaction is common. His business partner is “the business guy” and he is “the creative” and they have these kinds of conversations all the time.
And there it is – the story behind the story. As the “creative guy” our client sees himself as someone who can’t think constructively about the BUSINESS. He holds a story about himself that he can’t understand finances, that his partner must be right because he can understand spreadsheets, and most importantly, that he doesn’t have the authority to push back and/or slow the conversation down to accommodate his need to understand what is going on in the business because he is “just the creative.”
This week, think a little bit about the story you tell yourself about who you are when you are at work and what kind of limits you place on yourself as a result of that story. Next week, we will explore how to begin shifting the parts of your story that create self-limiting behaviors.