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The Villain Challenge – what if the heroes are sometimes the bad guy?

By Herman Visagie

Walking a mile in someone's shoes is advice that is as old as time. From the Bible, to stalwarts of self-help like Dale Carnegie and modern-day sages like Brené Brown we are constantly reminded that spending time looking at a situation from another person’s point of view is not only a key way to build connection and understanding, but also a valuable tool for us to reflect on ourselves as well. And as I sit here writing this I reflect on the American election, and the increasing divides that we are seeing, a phenomenon that Brené Brown described as America’s crisis of disconnection. And let’s be honest, its one that we are seeing around the world. With all of this in mind, the need to really try to see from another’s perspective is more critical than ever.

But that’s the easy part right. We all get it’s a good thing to do, but it’s never quite as simple as that. Even for those of us who like to, in the quiet of our own brains, view ourselves to be rather evolved and worthy of a bit of self-righteousness, it’s a struggle to really do this.

Over the last few months I have been reading and thinking a lot about practical tips and tricks to help me get out of my own head and see interactions or relationship challenges from the other person’s point of view. Recently while watching The Broken Hearts Gallery, a pretty standard but somewhat charming romcom, one line really stuck with me. As she was breaking up with her boyfriend the lead character said something along the lines of “I am sure you are the hero in your love story, but you are the villain in mine”. A simple line, and yet one that I could not stop thinking about for two reasons.

My first ah-ha moment was the reference to being the hero in your own story. It seems so obvious, and yet I had never really thought about it. We as people are innately selfish creatures. We think of ourselves first, and of course see things from our own point of view. And even when we try to see things from another person’s perspective, our own biases – including our innate nature to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and assume good intent from us while being more willing to infer judgement or ill-intent from others – means we still see things with a tainted view. And that led to the second realisation. As much as I am inherently the hero in my story, for others they are the hero in theirs and so by extension I am sometimes inherently the villain. This may seem simple, but actually blew my mind a bit.

As I was percolating last month on a professional relationship that went so wrong earlier this year, I sat down and journaled a version of the story from their point of view with me as an overexaggerated cartoon villain. Why a cartoon villain? Well I realised that the only way that I could really take off my own lens on events and view them from a completely different point of view was by making it a game and painting a fictional story instead.

The result was a funny tale, very different from the one I had been telling myself. This most intriguingly was a version that gave me some new insights and learnings into a situation that I had spent months thinking about already. It did not magically heal the hurt or frustration, and inherently I still felt that for the most part I was not the one in the wrong. What I did realise though was that a good few of my actions, while done with the best of intent, helped fuel the conflict.

This has provided me with some good work-ons for some of my other work relationships.

I think this is something that I am going to try and do more often and see what I learn - the Villain Challenge has commenced. I would love to see others do the same and see what happens!

Herman works as Chief of Staff at TSB. He has worked in the financial sector for almost a decade in central government, industry associations, and the private sector. In his current role Herman is responsible for corporate governance and management of the CEO’s office. Outside of this he is involved with a number of not for profit and professional bodies, including serving as Vice President – Central North Island for the New Zealand Law Society and as Treasurer for Action Station Aotearoa.

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