Are you aware of the stories you tell yourself? – Clean Feedback

Have you ever wondered how discussions escalate into shouting matches? Into a series of accusations and “I never said that!” “Yeah, you did!”

Us humans have a tendency to think that the stories we tell ourselves in our heads are the actual factual truths. We are rational beings after all. Or are we? At least we can trust our perceptions, right? Not really, either. We make stuff up all the time.

Point in turn: This – only tangentially related but super-awesome – twitter thread on the brain making shit up. Read it, I’ll wait:

On a more abstract level it is hard for us to separate between the things we actually see and hear and the story we tell ourselves about it.

A great way to think about this is with the Clean Feedback model by Caitlin Walker. It separates feedback into three components:

  • Evidence
    This is about observable behavior. What have you seen or heard? There is no judgement here.
  • Inference
    What meaning do you make of it? How do you interpret the evidence? What is the story you tell yourself?
  • Impact
    How does that make you feel and behave?

Here’s an example:
“When you are absent-minded in the meeting, the meaning I make of this, is that I’m not important enough to pay attention to, which makes want to avoid you.“

Could you identify the different components? I hope not, cause that was a trap. Being “absent-minded” is not a real observation. It’s already an interpretation. So what are the actual things I’ve seen and heard?

Lets try again:
“When we’re in a meeting and you look on your mobile a lot and pick it up and use it, I assume that I’m not important enough to you and in turn I want to avoid meeting with you. It also makes me sad.”

The tricky bit is that we often think of our inferences as the evidence. But it’s worth it to try to separate it into parts.

Unpacking thoughts like this makes it easier to judge less and stay curious. When shared with the other party it’s easier for them to understand how you arrived at your interpretation of events. And they can set things straight and say what they really meant.

Have you ever tried Clean Feedback? What happens in your conversations when you do?

(I’ve learned about Clean Language and Clean Feedback in this online course by Judy Rees and Olaf Lewitz. It originates in the book “From Contempt to Curiosity” by Caitlin Walker.)

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