When we self-interpret the narrative of others, we create a range of emotions, often negative, initiated from our bias interpretation. It is natural to narrate another person’s behavior, intentions, or rationalization. I do it with my family – my husband leaves the wet sponge in the sink to annoy me. I do it with my friends – my friends are ignoring my text because they are mad at me. I did it with my previous employer – my supervisor is ignoring my abilities and believes I am incompetent.
When do we take responsibility for our thoughts and our reactions? Unless we have somehow developed an ability to read the minds of those around us, I believe we are far off from knowing the intentions and rationalization of others without further verbal inquiry. When we choose to place a narrative to our perceptions of another person’s behaviors, it has the potential to create conflict and, ultimately, anger within us. We become angry at specific individuals, and our narrative fills with destructive thoughts. We confirm our ultimate bias of that person and file away further reasons why he or she is egotistical, self-involved, incompetent, and the list goes on and on.
The idea of holding a self-interpreted narrative dawned on me when I was standing in line at a grocery store and a fellow female shopper cut in front of me. My thought was, “what a discourtesy person, does she not realize where the end of the line is?” I began to vent to myself how this person is an arrogant shopper who thinks she is above the rules of shopping and common consideration. However, before I went too much further down that rabbit hole, I stopped myself. I reflected on how I did not know the circumstances of this shopper or why she may have cut in line. Yet in mere moments, I had created an irresponsible narrative labeling this person and determining for myself her motives and needs.
I noted another example of a self-interpreted narrative when a good friend of mine called to vent about a workplace situation. My friend believed the organization he was employed by was preventing his promotion. I listened to my friend explain how he felt his direct supervisor fed the executive misinformation about his ability, which led to him not being promoted. He went on about how he was going to file a complaint with Human Resources and report those who wronged him. I sensed frustration and anger from my friend but allowed him to finish detailing his experience before I conducted my inquiry. I asked my friend if he had spoken to his supervisor and explained his concerns? He advised me he would not talk to his supervisor because she was egotistical and untrustworthy. I began to see how toxic his self-interpretive narrative was and how it could potentially lead him to become an unproductive and angry employee.
Have you ever asked yourself, do I truly know the intention or rationalization of another individual? Have I taken the time to inquire and seek to understand why someone may have made a particular decision? Most likely, instead of communicating with the very person we may have an issue or disagreement, we chose to seek the refuge of a fellow confidant to engage in complaints and affirmation for a narrative that is full of misinformation.
To truly get to the root of understanding, we must take the time to communicate. Consider practicing self-reflection to fully comprehend your motives and ensure you have engaged in an objective interpretation of the narrative. Further, if we wish to understand those around us, we must ask questions, seek clarification, and, if necessary, empathize with the situation and the plight of others. In the end, being open with your communication will lead you to the path of understanding and create stronger relationships with those around you.
Dr. Jen Magnus has a Doctorate in Business Administration: Organizational Leadership. Through her business, Magnus Consulting, Dr. Magnus conducts workplace assessments/audits, investigations, and training related to organizational culture, leadership, workplace investigations, trauma-informed interviewing, and creating a respectful workplace. She is a 14-year retired veteran of policing, post-secondary instructor, and a member of several Public Boards. All notes, publications, and opinions are her own unless otherwise specified. © Magnus Consulting 2021