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You believe you should help someone, but don’t.

• You believe you should apologize, but don’t.

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• You believe you should stay late to finish up on a commitment,

but go home instead.

• You say yes when you know you should say no, then hope no

one follows up to see if you keep your commitment.

• You believe you should talk to someone about concerns you

have with him or her, but don’t.

• You do less than your share and think you should acknowl­

edge it, but say nothing knowing no one else will bring it up


• You believe you should listen respectfully to feedback, but

become defensive instead.

• You see problems with a plan someone presents and think you

should speak up, but don’t.

• You fai l to complete an assignment on time and believe you

should let others know, but don’t.




• You know you have information a coworker could use, but

keep it to yourself.

Even small sellouts like these get us started telling clever stories.

When we don’t admit to our own mistakes, we obsess about others’

faults, our innocence, and our powerlessness to do anything other

than what we’re already doing. We tell a clever story when we want

self-justification more than results. Of course, self-justification is

not what we really want, but we certainly act as if it is.

With that sad fact in mind, let’s focus on what we really want.

Let’s look at the final Master My Stories skill.

Tell the Rest of the Story

Once we’ve learned to recognize the clever stories we tell our­

selves, we can move to the final Master My Stories skill. The dia­

logue-smart recognize that they’re telling clever stories, stop,

and then do what it takes to tell a useful story. A useful story, by

definition, creates emotions that lead to healthy action-such as


And what transforms a clever story into a useful one? The rest

of the story. That’s because clever stories have one characteristic

in common: They’re incomplete. Clever stories omit crucial

information about us, about others, and about our options. Only

by including all of these essential details can clever stories be

transformed into useful ones.

What’s the best way to fill in the missing details? Quite sim­

ply, it’s done by turning victims into actors, villains into humans,

and the helpless into the able. Here’s how.

Turn victims into actors . If you notice that you’re talking

about yourself as an innocent victim (and you weren’t held up at

gunpoint) , ask:

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




This question jars you into facing up to the fact that maybe,

just maybe, you did something to help cause the problem. Instead

of being a victim, you were an actor. This doesn’t necessarily

mean you had malicious motives. Perhaps your contribution was

merely a thoughtless omission. Nonetheless, you contributed.

For example, a coworker constantly leaves the harder or nox­

ious tasks for you to complete. You’ve frequently complained to

friends and loved ones about being exploited. The parts you

leave out of the story are that you smile broadly when your boss

compliments you for your willingness to take on challenging

jobs, and you’ve never said anything to your coworker. You’ve

hinted, but that’s about it.

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




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.

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