A Lesson from Cooperative Communication: Telling Ourselves Big-Picture Stories

Here's a sample lesson from the Cooperative Communication course. I'm posting it here to give more folks a chance to see the course materials. 

If you have questions or comments, please post them below. I'm delighted to learn what you're thinking!

Types of Stories

When we tell ourselves stories about other people, very often the story we tell ourselves revolves around ourselves and our experience. The advantage to this tactic is that we have some power over a story if we are involved. If someone's story is all about them and their experience, we have little or no power or influence over their story. Because we are trained to avoid our feelings of powerlessness, the idea that someone's story could have nothing to do with us may be frightening or overwhelming. Yet most people are having their own experiences and telling themselves stories that put themselves at the center of the action. When we can differentiate between our stories about ourselves (self-centric stories) and stories that are genuinely about other people (other-centric stories) we are much more likely to create a whole picture that includes everyone (a big-picture story.)

In a self-centric story we are interpreting other people's behavior in the light of ourselves. "Joan slammed the door because she was angry at me." Versus, "Joan slammed the door, I wonder what happened? Her face doesn't seem upset. Maybe she slammed the door accidentally." An other-centric story focuses on the other person and doesn't involve us. Perhaps we *are* involved in their story. But just as likely, their story is about them and their life and not us.

Self-centric stories aren't necessarily negative, but they tend to include us, usually in a hope that we might have some power in the situation. They tend to be less accurate.

A big-picture story is one that takes everyone's stories into account so that the negotiation will be based on the greatest available truth. Sometimes in a big-picture story we agree to disagree about a story's truth, but we are *aware* of both versions and their possible truth. When we aren't fighting over who is right and who is wrong, we don't need to deny the truth of another person's story.


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This material is related to the topics in Cooperative Communication, an online course I wrote. If you are interested in taking a self-paced or interactive webinar version of the course, you'll find more information here. Patrons get unlimited self-paced courses for $25/Thing and unlimited interactive webinars for $55/Thing. Sign up and I'll send you an invitation to the course.

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