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Transform Rut Stories into River Stories

Written by: Lorraine Twombly
Published: March 2010
As a coach in our organization I meet with a lot of people who need help with communications, getting along with co-workers, being more assertive, and becoming better leaders. Everyone I have met with wants more than anything to succeed in all areas of their work and life, and sometimes circumstances steer us down a path that leads us to a place we'd rather stay away from. There are some things most of us have in common as human beings:  When we are stressed or feeling bad, we tend to respond or talk rut stories. Our definition of a “rut” story is one’s negative response or making an excuse to the challenges we face every day.  Our workload is heavier than it’s ever been, we don’t have the resources to delegate the good work, and this can keep us from challenging ourselves toward doing bigger and better things in our lives. Some years ago, I met with a productive employee who called and asked for my help.  This person would not have called me if his boss hadn’t asked him to contact me.  The boss noticed that this employee was becoming more negative by the day and wasn’t cooperating with his coworkers and wanted only to “do the job without having to talk to anyone unless absolutely necessary”.  When I actually met with him and asked a series of questions to get to the root of his negativity, I found out that he was under a great deal of pressure to make more money because his wife was sick and he needed the extra money to cover what wasn’t coming in as a result of her illness.  He felt like life was letting him down in some way and all this responsibility was turning him into a different person.  Although I empathized with this person, I had to ask him, “If you keep going down this path of negative thinking, what will happen to your own health and well-being?”  He replied that he couldn’t think that far out and he can’t get out of his own way to being more positive.  He was spiraling down a path of “rut” stories and almost every statement he made confirmed this.  After several meetings of breaking the chain of rut stories, he finally decided to make the conscience effort to think more positively and to make an effort to slow down, have some fun at the office and to enlist the help he needed from the HR department in his organization.  We are in touch periodically, he sounds much better every time we speak or meet, and his wife overcame the illness and is back to work as a healthy productive worker.  This may be a cliché, but he decided that the power of positive thinking would help him get through his challenges in life.  He changed his thinking and his life has become a series of “river stories”.. Here are some examples of what we mean by “rut” stories: “Why should I be friends with people at work when all I want to do is my job?”  Some people feel that being civil or friendly at work gets in the way getting things done. “You’re the leader, why should I lead by example?  Isn’t that your job?”  Some people feel that because they have a boss they don’t have to lead by example. “That’s not in my job description and if you want me to do that, I’ll need a raise.”  Some people feel like they should punch in and punch out when going to work and that’s all that is required of them.  “I need to check before I do anything!” People's intention to look good replaces intention to be good. "I'm afraid people will think badly of me."  People play it safe, take no risks.  No risk = no reward. "It’s not my fault."  People give away their power and can't create what they want. "It’s no big deal, it will all blow over."  People dodge mistakes - no learning occurs. "Who cares?"  People get stuck in resignation and do not create the future. “I’m too busy to attend that meeting!”  People miss out on the important communications or learning and development just to get their work done. Here are some major reasons we tell rut stories in my experience as a coach:  Stress at home and work Laziness Pressure from others to do more work or chores Illnesses of all types Lack of knowledge on aspects of work and social events Fear  Lack of communication Feeling misunderstood Here are some solutions to stop the rut stories: Recognize the rut story.  When you see it, reflect it.  “You think people don’t care?” Break the grip of the story by making people aware of its self-sabotaging nature and unintended consequences.  When you think people don’t care, where does that leave you in relationship to the problem? Transform rut stories into river stories by enabling people to revise their interpretations and see things in a new way. What do you want people to think about you? We all go down rut stories now and then and sometimes it’s just a venting tool to get things off our chests.  It’s good to realize it before we say something negative, and being aware is definitely the key to positive responses or telling successful river stories!

Lorraine Twombly

Lorraine Twombly