We’d had a testy exchange earlier in the week and by the time we met, I was sure that he really had it in for me.
Except, he quite probably didn’t. But I was quite sure of how he was going to be in this interaction, and who I was in response. And so I was careful, detached, defensive, and withholding of myself. And the more I was that way with him, the more his sense of distrust and discomfort with me was amplified. Pretty soon we were both spinning away from one another in a spiral of distance and mutual recrimination.
And what’s startling about this is not, perhaps, the obvious point that my story about all this shaped how I was with him. It’s that my story about him also profoundly affected how he was with me.
We don’t just shape ourselves with the stories we tell ourselves. We shape one another, bringing each other forth even when we might think our stories and interpretations are private and personal.
Seeing this opens up enormous possibilities.
Firstly, and most immediately, that I might actively work to see what interpretation I’m bringing to people and situations, and believe my own stories less readily.
And, secondly, we might start to question the highly individualistic accounts we have about what happens in our organisations. Because if the way he is with me is shaped by my stories, how much more so is the way we all are in our work shaped not just by our own stories but by the stories of all those we are around.
In our organisations, and in our communities, we are all bringing one another into being. This renders many of our simplistic cause-and-effect accounts of performance and outcome very shaky indeed. And it ought to have us deeply question the way we give feedback, hold one another accountable, carry out performance reviews, explain success and failure, and blame others when things don’t go the way we’d hoped.