Join Fred Kofman for an in-depth discussion in this video The player's questions, part of Powerless to Powerful: Taking Control.
So what are the stories of the player? What are the questions that will trigger the stories of the player? Well, the first question is, what challenge are you facing? And notice how different that is. If you're a manager, and you're asking your employees how are they struggling with a situation, and you ask them, tell me, "What is happening to you?" The answer would be very different than if you ask, "What challenge are you facing?" One of my literary heroes is Carlos Castaneda, he's an anthropologist who worked with a shaman in Mexico called Don Juan and one of the phrases of Don Juan is, the difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that for the ordinary man, everything is a blessing or a curse.
But for a warrior, things are not good or bad. Everything is a challenge and that's what I'm inviting you to do. To take the posture of the warrior, the player. Everything is a challenge. So whenever something is happening, you can ask yourself, you can self coach, or you can ask your kids, your spouse, your friends, what challenge are you facing, with care. So, acknowledging that this is difficult. Just like in the case of John. He was facing a very tough challenge and it hurts. But our compassion doesn't mean co-dependence.
We can be compassionate, we can be tender and, yet, accept that the challenge is something to respond to. So, first question, what challenge are you facing? The second question is, did you contribute in any way to bring this about? Can you see any way that you could have done something different to avoid the situation, or be better prepared to handle it? Now that's a tough question. The last thing people want to hear in that moment is, oh, I have something to do with this. I mean, imagine John saying, hey, wait a minute, I was targeted.
I have nothing to do with this, and that is true. The behavior of this manager that he describes was not his doing, but the way that behavior effected him, that effect was under his control. I'm going to do something a little strange, but, I'd like to play a scenario, and for this scenario you have to imagine you're dressed exactly like you're dressed. Namely, you don't have a hat because I'm going to say something crazy about your hat.
I'm not pretending you have a hat. You have no hat. So just imagine that I come and say, John, that green hat you're wearing is absolutely awful. I mean, only a person with no taste could wear such an ugly, green hat. Where the hell did you get the idea to wear such a horrible thing? I mean, you're smiling. I'm trying to offend you. Why are you smiling? - (Laugh) Because like you say, I know I'm not wearing a hat. - Exactly. - Yeah. - I can't hurt you.
Can I hurt you talking about (crosstalk) your green hat? - No. - Now, if I say, I mean, you're just a foreigner. - Yeah. - And I say like that's an insult. Can I hurt you? - No, actually. - Yeah, exactly. Exactly, because... - I'm not just a foreigner. I am a foreigner,, I'm not just a foreigner. - So, what? The just desparaging. That's like the green hat. - Yeah.
- See, but, that's the poison. That's my intuition about the poison. That what disables you to respond is that because this person has authority, and because you were not prepared, it's like a vampire. He beat you and he left this mark of, maybe there is something wrong with you. And although you know rationally it's not true, something is there, but if you look at it from now, it's crazy. This is a dog barking or a crazy person speaking about your green hat when you don't have one.
That's all there is. That's all there is, knowing that there are some sick people out, there are some blind people, some racist people, some xenophobe people, some misogynist, I mean, all sorts of weird people out there and the only protection we have is our strength inside because we can't stop them from being who they are and sometimes they have positions of authority. - Yeah. - So it's a scary thought, but it's a scary thought to have hurricanes, it's a scary thought to have floods. I mean, it's a scary thought to have wild dogs, too.
But they exist. - They exist, that's true. - So now we just have to say, what do I do about that? And the first line of defense, the first line is, these people are crazy. They're crazy. They're talking about something that doesn't exist. There is no problem with being a foreigner. There is no problem being Jewish or being black or being human or anything. And that's why this little game about the green hat. I have him specifically consider a crazy situation and realize that I could be very "offensive" to him, and, yet, it wouldn't offend him because it makes no sense.
It makes no sense in his mind. By comparison, the thought that there is something in him that is wrong and that could be targeted did make some sense, and it's this sense what created the hook on which the insult could land. When he realized that he became a player. He realized, oh, I can unhook, and if I unhook then there's nothing to catch and then it goes through. So, have you contributed in any way by doing, or perhaps by not doing, to bring this situation about? I can't tell you how many times people have said, "Well, I didn't do anything." It's like, precisely.
How is not doing anything contributing to create the situation? Ah. You mean that too? Yes. So the second question is, how are you involved with the situation? How are you contributing to it? The third question is, could you have done something different? Could you have responded differently? Can you think of any other way to respond? And most people will say, "Yeah, I could have done xy or z. In the moment I didn't think of it," but it's a creative question. It's not a blame.
Sometimes people will say, "well I should have done", and I stop them. I say, no, I'm not asking what you should have done. Should, it's a victim word. Could is the player word. Players always ask, "what can I do?" Should is blame. Should is associated with guilt. That's not player behavior. So, could you have done something better? And most people come up with several ideas. And then the most important question, can you do something now? Even 20 years after? There's something John can do now to improve the situation.
One of the best stories I have over my career, one of the first times I was teaching this, it was a multi-part course, I teach this in November and there was a big guy, it was in Texas, Plano. This big, massive guy was sitting in the back of the room with a face like a dog. I mean, he clearly, I mean, I thought he was hating every second of this. He was upset, he didn't want to be there. The typical manager that was told to be there in the room or something bad would happen, so he was feeling like a victim.
Like, yeah, my manager told me to be there, so I'm sitting here because I was told. Anyway, we do all this and we finish, and then the next time we meet in January. He comes and before the session, say, "You know that stuff about the victim, player?" I'm like, "Yeah?" "It works!" Oh, I was so happy because I thought he was going to say something awful. I said, "Well, tell me more." "I had dinner with my dad for Christmas." "Okay, and?" "No, no. That's it." "So what's the story? Why is it a big deal?" "Because I haven't talk to my dad for 20 years.
And I spent 20 years thinking that he was supposed to call me. And I did that stupid exercise that you gave us last time, and I said, okay, I'm going to do it with my dad, and when my partner asked, "What could you do?", I said, "I could call him," like it was a stupid, crazy idea. But then I thought about it and I thought, I could call him and I did call him, and the conversation ended up with us having dinner together on Christmas and talking about it. And I wasted 20 years blaming him and waiting for him to call because he should have called." I mean, it still sends shivers up my spine, that story.
It was amazing how, in a simple exercise like this, this person changed his mind from blaming his father. He didn't even remember why. He just remembered it was his fault, to saying, "It doesn't matter whose fault it is. I want to see my dad. I'm going to call him." That's the story of the player. That's the attitude of saying, yeah, maybe the father did something horrible but it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters, what do you want to do now? So, can you do something now? And the last question is, what lesson can you learn from this? You see, bad things happen, and maybe you made a wrong choice, but you paid an expensive price for it.
Don't pay it again. Learn the lesson, because if you don't learn the lesson, you're going to have to do it again. And you're going to have to pay the price again. So the more expensive the lesson, the more suffering, the more important it is to step back and say, "What can I learn from this so I don't do it again?" Even if you can't solve anything of what happened that is worth the price of admission. I mean, that is gold. Pure gold, to refine this sorrow into a learning, to distill the raw pain that happened in the original situation and distill something precious that will give you an idea of how to proceed, give you a sense of direction that will avoid this pain in the future.