Fred the farmer needed to plow his fields. But his tractor was in the shop and the repairs weren’t going to be done in time. Fred noticed that his neighbor, Ed, had finished his plowing decided to ask if he could borrow Ed’s tractor.
Fred headed down the lane toward Ed’s house, thinking to himself, “I’m sure he won’t hesitate to lend it to me. Ed’s a good guy.”
A little way further down the lane, Fred mused, “Of course, some folks can be a bit odd about lending expensive equipment.”
Then he thought to himself, “He’ll think immediately about the price of gasoline. I’ll need to make sure he knows I’ll pay for the gas.”
A few more steps and Fred realized, “Ed hasn’t been over to chat much lately. I hope he’s not upset with me about something.”
As Ed’s house came into view, Fred remembered thinking that Ed had looked at him oddly at the last church supper. “I wonder what that was all about?”
As he stepped onto Ed’s front walkway, Fred thought, “I hope he isn’t going to make this difficult. He can be a bit ornery sometimes.” In his remaining steps to the front door, Fred’s mind reeled with all the ways Ed could be a jerk about the tractor.
He rapped his knuckles on the door. When Ed answered, Fred said, “You can keep your darn tractor, you selfish SOB. I didn’t need it that badly in the first place!”
Runaway thoughts and catastrophizing can hobble your difficult conversations before they even begin. Indeed, they can even make conversations difficult when they wouldn’t have been otherwise!
I see this challenge frequently enough in my mediation and conflict coaching work that I’ve developed ways to help clients avoid the trap. And I’ve written about the topic before, once telling another story about runaway thoughts, another time offering ideas for cultivating a non-anxious state of mind during difficult conversations, and yet another with questions to help you confront without catastrophizing. I’ve also written about my grad students’ reaction after a difficult conversations assignment.
By the way, if you know the original source of the above joke, I’d love to know it.