We humans are marvellously ingenious. We create our reality by what we choose to perceive and the thought patterns we come up with to make sense of our world. We then repeat these over and over to ourselves creating belief systems that inform every aspect of our lives. Sometimes these beliefs are consciously held, but mostly they run like software packages in the back of our minds – that is, until they come under scrutiny. I would like to share two examples with you. The first concerns marriage and marriage counselling.
Generally wives are the first to seek help. By the end of the initial interview I am left with the impression that they are married to unyielding ogres. Then, if fortunate enough, I get to see the husbands. In the course of those interviews the men go from resistant, defensive hunks to dreary gents sitting forward with the tissue box close at hand leaving me with second thoughts about who the victim really is. Then I see the couple together and a third story emerges. Neither refers to what was said in private and neither do I (that would be a breach of confidentiality). While the facts remain the same (dates, sequences of events), this third story is effectively the only one I can work with. Together we then try to come up with a new story, a fourth story – one that can contain the past and possibly give hope for the future.
Disputes in workplaces follow a similar line. The manager or leader who thinks he knows the truth by adding together the various stories he has heard, is missing the boat by a long shot.* In human relations one plus one is always more than two. We call this the principle of non-summativity. Put another way, the whole is always more than the sum of the parts.
Think of a kaleidoscope: with every shake of the kaleidoscope the configuration changes to mirror another beautiful pattern back to us. The coloured glass pieces in the lens, i.e. the facts, stay the same. The challenge is to decide which story serves us the best; which offers us the greatest potential to live constructive and happy lives and which are beliefs that no longer serve us. When we rewrite our stories, we change our emotions and with that we create our well-being.
* We are often afraid to put opposing parties in the same room. We fear the conflict. That is our issue; our personal story. If a plaintiff cannot share his complaint or allegation in the company of the person he is accusing, that story has little relevance. When indeed we find the courage to bring all concerned persons into the same space, a third dynamic happens and often it is more constructive than any to-ing and fro-ing can ever be. Stories heard in isolation can never paint the true picture. The greater the transparency, the sooner the resolution!