Whenever we go through a difficult situation personally, our immediate tendency is to write the narrative in our minds that make us the heroes and others the villians. TWhether someone cut you off in traffic or you were fired from your job or someone slandered you, etc., our tendency is to tell the story only with information that makes us the victim and others the villain.
In the book Crucial Conversations, we see the significant problem when making ourselves look good in telling a ‘clever story’ to justify our actions:
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 simply, 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 noxious 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.
Hard conversations and hard decisions will happen. The key is to make sure we are ambassadors of the truth when it comes to both sides of the story.