Several years ago, a video circulated on social media that showed a former CIA operative describing the most significant lesson she had learned from being undercover. “Everybody believes they are the good guy,” she said, describing how her encounters with our country’s declared enemies had shown her how both sides were completely convinced they were doing the right thing. And in being so convinced, there was only one way to view the other side: wrong. She also describes how third parties could then leverage this division if it benefited them for the two parties to continue to be pitted against each other. We’ve seen that play out in many ways over the last few years.
Her message stuck with me, particularly the ways it plays out in our day-to-day lives and interactions with others.
How does our perspective blind us from what others are seeing, thinking, and feeling?
As I reflect on the stories I often share when my husband asks “How was your day?” it strikes me that I am often the hero of my story. I’m the “good guy,” the one who had the good idea, or landed the difficult task, or had the needed conversation.
Frequently, my story involves the obstacles put in place by others that I had to overcome. Would I recognize myself in the version of the same story told by those I’ve interacted with? By those who placed the “obstacles”? I have to wonder.
I also see this “good guy” concept show up when we are partnering with organizations in the work of Values Based Leadership. In our conversations, we use stories of interactions from our own work lives to illustrate concepts of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, or feedback.
For example, one of my colleagues often shares a story of an interaction where her need for efficiency was conflicting with a co-worker’s need for collaboration, and the feedback conversation that resulted from their conflict.
Almost without fail, those listening to the story relate to my colleague as “the good guy” in the story, and the co-worker as the obstacle to getting the work done. They tend to see it first as a clear cut right vs wrong scenario. The funny thing is, when the story is told from the perspective of the collaborative co-worker, the listeners see her as “the good guy.” My efficient colleague becomes the heartless task-master. Same story, different perspective.
What new possibilities might be opened up – in our work lives, our home lives, and our nation – if we could walk through our days with the idea that everyone we encounter believes they are the good guy?
The next time you find yourself reacting to the actions of others that seem clearly wrong, try pausing and trying to look at the situation from their perspective. What are they seeing, thinking, and feeling that might have led them to believe that their action was the right one? After the pause, ask some curious questions to try to understand their point of view. You may be surprised to find that they become more interested in understanding you as well.