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