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Reflecting Reality — Sometimes Means Telling People Things They Don't Want to Hear


24Oct 2010

When working with people in my role as a coach or counselor, I often tell them that part of my role is to “reflect reality” to them — to give them objective and honest feedback on how I see their situation, and what choices they actually have (versus the choices they wish they have).

Some examples include:

*Helping family business owners come to grips with that they have very different views of where the future of the business should go and how the business should be run — to the point that unless someone drastically changes their viewpoint, working together without ongoing major conflict isn’t a realistic option.

*Reporting to parents that their school-aged child has serious learning difficulties and cognitive delays, that have major implications for how well their child will do in a traditional academic setting.

*Working with a family whose teenage son is not doing well in school and he is having major behavioral problems at school, at home and in the community. He doesn’t care about school, resents any demands placed on him, is using drugs and alcohol and there is no “quick fix” to make things better./p>

Here are some of the situations I have to help people accept as “reality” — that is, this is the way things are and you are going to have to figure out how to deal with the difficulties you are facing.

“Your spouse is probably not going to change.” One of the most common sources of marital conflict and dissatisfaction is the ongoing frustration that comes from your spouse continuing to do things (or not do something) that irritates you to no end. And “all they would have to do is ….” (which seems like no big deal to you) and everything would be okay. But he or she either won’t, or can’t, or doesn’t consistently choose to do x, y or z. And you keep trying to figure out how to “make them understand” or help them change or something. But the reality really is — he or she is probably not going to change. (Young couples rarely accept this statement and keep trying to change their spouse for decades.)

“You can’t change [insert name here — your son, your mother, your brother-in-law, your boss, etc.]; you are going to have to figure out how (or whether) to live with them as they are.” This is a variation on the first reality. And in either case, I am not saying people can’t change. People do change, but the reality is — the longer a behavior has occurred, barring a significant life event, the less likely that behavior will change. So we have to accept that probability as part of our reality, and determine how we want to respond.

“You are saying you don’t have any choice. That’s not true — you just don’t like the choices you have.” Many times I am dealing with people in difficult circumstances, and frequently they are in a tough spot. It often appears that there is ‘no choice’. This is rarely true. Almost always, there is some form of choice — whether or not to proceed in the same direction, how to respond to circumstances or whether to be passive and ‘let whatever happens, happen’. Most often people have to choose between two alternatives that they don’t like — that whatever they choose, there will most probably be some form of negative consequence: the other party involved will become mad or upset, the result will be embarrassing, or some other bad result. The only way I have learned to help people come to some resolution in these types of situations is to force them to decide: “With which alternative (and resulting consequences) am I most willing to live?”

Finding a satisfying career ultimately isn’t about what you want to do. This comes as a shock to most young people; they are anxiously trying to figure out what to do with their lives — what they want, what will satisfy them, what they are interested in. And sure, these are nice things to pursue. But it is sort of like pursuing happiness — it is ephemeral and like chasing butterflies. They are pleasant for a while but ultimately elusive. Happiness, and job satisfaction, largely are a by-product of pursuing other more important realities. In work and careers, it is more about finding a need that is going unmet and figuring out a way to meet the need — and get paid for it. I tell my career coaching clients — Work is providing a good or service that others need or want, and are willing to pay for it. All three elements are necessary: providing a good or service, others want or need it, they are willing to pay to have that need met. This includes finding a job — what does the potential employer need or want? Proving to her/him that you can and are willing to meet their need will lead you to getting the job.

There are other “realities” that I help people realize, face and deal with every week. Maybe you know someone who needs to hear one of these — or needs help dealing with the reality they are facing. Facing difficult circumstances is usually a healthier choice than ignoring or avoiding them.

Have a great week!

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