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The first step in telling the rest of this story would be to add

these important facts to your account. By asking what role

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you’ve played, you begin to realize how selective your perception

has been. You become aware of how you’ve minimized your own

mistakes while you’ve exaggerated the role of others.

Turn villains into humans. When you find yourself labeling or

otherwise vilifying others, stop and ask:

• Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what

this person is doing?

This particular question humanizes others. As we search for

plausible answers to it, our emotions soften. Empathy often

replaces judgment, and depending upon how we’ve treated oth­

ers, personal accountability replaces self-justification.

For instance, that coworker who seems to conveniently miss

out on the tough j obs told you recently that she could see you

were struggling with an important assignment, and yesterday

( while you were tied up on a pressing task) she pitched in and

completed the job for you. You were instantly suspicious. She

W’lS trying to make you look bad by completing a high-profile

jub. Huw dare she prctcnd to be helpful when her real goal was




to discredit you while tooting her own hom! Well, that’s the

story you’ve told yourself.

But what if she really were a reasonable, rational, and decent

person? What if she had no motive other than to give you a

hand? Isn’t it a bit early to be vilifying her? And if you do, don’t

you run the risk of ruining a relationship? Might you go off half­

cocked, accuse her, and then learn you were wrong?

Our purpose for asking why a reasonable, rational, and decent

person might be acting a certain way is not to excuse others for

any bad things they may be doing. If they are, indeed, guilty,

we’ll have time to deal with that later. The purpose of the

humanizing question is to deal with our own stories and emo­

tions. It provides us with still another tool for working on our­

selves first by providing a variety of possible reasons for the

other person’s behavior.

In fact, with experience and maturity we learn to worry less

about others’ intent and more about the effect others’ actions are

having on us. No longer are we in the game of rooting out

unhealthy motives. And here’s the good news. When we reflect

on alternative motives, not only do we soften our emotions, but

equally important, we relax our absolute certainty long enough

to allow for dialogue-the only reliable way of discovering oth­

ers’ genuine motives.

Turn the helpless into the able. Finally, when you catch your­

self bemoaning your own helplessness, you can tell the complete

story by returning to your original motive. To do so, stop and ask:

• What do I really want? For me? For others? For the relation­


Then, kill the Sucker’s Choice that’s made you feel helpless to

choose anything other than silence or violence. Do this by asking:

• What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?




For example, you now find yourself insulting your coworker

for not pitching in with a tough job. Your coworker seems sur­

prised at your strong and “out of the blue” reaction. In fact, she’s

staring at you as if you’ve slipped a cog. You, of course, have told

yourself that she is purposefully avoiding noxious tasks, and that

despite your helpful hints, she has made no changes.

“I have to get brutal,” you tell yourself. “I don’t like it, but if

1 don’t offend her, I’ll be stuck doing the grunt work forever.”

You’ve strayed from what you really want-to share work

equally and to have a good relationship. You’ve given up on half

of your goals by making a Sucker’s Choice. “Oh well, better to

offend her than to be made a fool.”

What should you be doing instead? Openly, honestly, and

effectively discussing the problem-not taking potshots and

then justifying yourself. When you refuse to make yourself help­

less, you’re forced to hold yourself accountable for using your

dialogue skills rather than bemoaning your weakness.


To see how this all fits together, let’s circle back to Maria. Let’s

assume she’s retraced her Path to Action and separated the facts

from the stories. Doing this has helped her realize that the story

she told was incomplete, defensive, and hurtful. When she

watched for the Three Clever Stories, she saw them with painful

clarity. Now she’s ready to tell the rest of the story. So she asks


• Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?

“When I found out that Louis was holding project meetings

without me, I felt like I should ask him about why I wasn ‘t

included. I believed that if I did, I could open a dialogue that

would help us work better together. But then I didn ‘t, and as




my resentment grew, [ was even less interested in broaching

the subject. ”

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