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Confront the Stories in Your Head that Hold Your Team Back

This article was based on episode 257 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

Starting from a very young age, we soak up messages from our surrounding culture, friends, and family about who we are. We may be brought up to trust our intuition or we may feel pressure to align to certain gendered expectations. We internalize most of these signals as stories without being aware of them. While they sometimes serve us, they can just as easily limit us. And they can create a lot of conflict along the way.

In order to understand ourselves and our colleagues, we need to become conscious of the way our stories impact our emotions and actions. Becoming aware allows us to confront differences in perspective, change course, and build towards truly collaborative conversations.

Joining me to guide us through the art of deconstructing our stories is Chuck Wisner. Chuck is a sought-after thinker, coach, and teacher in organizational strategy, conversational dynamics, and leadership excellence. He has spent twenty-five years as a business consultant to leaders in high-profile companies and is the author of The Art of Conscious Conversations.

Here, Chuck teaches us why we need to listen to that “left hand column” that may be whispering snide remarks in our head, how to help our teammates unearth their own stories, and the process of gently separating fact from fiction when we invariably butt heads.


We have both the public conversation that we’re saying out loud to others, and the private internal one that’s always mumbling in the back of our minds. This private conversation was coined The Left Hand Column by Chris Ardous back in the 70s. It’s often negative and toxic, and we’re usually taught to ignore such thoughts. But if we do that, we end up being less authentic, open, and vulnerable. The negative voices are there for a reason. They indicate something that’s bugging us.

Four Lessons From The Left Hand Column Stories

Chuck explains that there are four types of lessons we can learn from these private, judgmental conversations. By listening to and processing them, we can turn negative internal talk into positive movement forward.

When you find yourself in one of those private talk moments, take a minute afterwards to revisit the conversation. Ask these four questions:

  1. What’s the hidden desire for what you wish had happened?

  2. What concerns does the judgment represent?

  3. What’s the power issue at play? Who’s the authority in the relationship that may speak freely and whose voice holds less power or is being held back?

  4. What standards of yours are involved? Where are your values in conflict with the values of others?

By asking ourselves and our teammates these questions, we can understand our perspectives more deeply. This raises more helpful, illuminating questions about what we really want to achieve. It also puts us into a vulnerable, safe space to share where we are coming from. Only then can we have truly collaborative conversations where we feel comfortable revealing our worries and wishes.


I know I’ve been in discussions with colleagues where we have totally different recollections of a conversation or incident. It’s hard to parse out how to move forward when our memories don’t align and our emotions are running high.

In cases like that, Chuck suggests beginning with the emotional reactions. Have each side say what they’re feeling. Then seek to understand why each person was feeling that way. Why did they feel confused or defensive? Allow everyone to get a glimpse into what their concerns, hopes, and standards were that contributed to their emotional response.

Looking at the feelings and then the perspectives behind the feelings helps us center and ground ourselves. We can then revisit the facts from a calmer place. What actually happened? Take a few minutes to separate opinions from facts so you can hold a safer, more open dialogue.

This approach can be particularly helpful when a colleague is hurt over not getting a promotion they sought. For example, they may feel undervalued and unseen given all the hard work they put in. Or, perhaps they’re feeling deflated and wondering why they ever thought the promotion was a possibility. Or, maybe they’re upset and feel the process was unfair. Whatever it is, guide them through this process of dissecting their internal voices by first looking at their reactions, expectations, and standards. Then map out the facts of what happened. Lastly, brainstorm ideas for how to bridge the gap between reality and what they wanted to help them move forward.


Looking at the stories we tell ourselves is essential to getting in the right mood to achieve great things. Even when our dreams don’t line up with reality, if we can accept the current challenges we are in and feel hopeful by the possibilities, we will feel calm and confident. If, however, we can't accept them and feel the situation is hopeless, we will be stuck in feelings of resentment and resignation. Having these conversations with our teammates in which we help them see a path forward is essential for a supercharged positive atmosphere at work.

Every challenge is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our teammates. When conflict arises, get in touch with the unhelpful stories that are lurking in the background. What hopes aren’t materializing? What concerns are worrying you? How are your standards different from your colleagues’? What power dynamics are preventing you or someone else from speaking up? Let these guideposts shine a light on the direction forward. Practice opening up the space and creating a safe atmosphere for vulnerability and connection. See how examining these stories can rewrite the future of you and your team.


Get a discount to have Chuck speak at your corporate or community event when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 257 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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