The first step in telling the rest of this story would be to add
these important facts to your account. By asking what role
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
1 1 4 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
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?
MASTER MY STORI ES 1 1 5
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.
MARIA’S NEW STORY
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
1 1 6 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
my resentment grew, [ was even less interested in broaching
the subject. ”