I made up this exercise with a client today and thought this would be fun to share, assuming you might have a client in a similar situation.
My client is stuck in that typical trap: Should I quit and find a new job or should I stick around?
And when I ask her where she’s leaning towards, or what she wants, her reply has always been that wonderful, “I don’t know.”
Now, I know some of you love to ask the question, “Well, what if you did know?” (I’m not a fan of that question, but if it works for you, go for it.)
However, I realized that what was likely causing the “I don’t know” syndrome was that she’s got compelling reasons for both sides and they keep warring with each other. Every time she starts to think to leave, she reminds herself of how lucky she is to have what she has and maybe she’s making a big deal out of nothing and should tough it out a little and perhaps this will be good for her. And then when she resigns to stay, she sees how her boss doesn’t respect her the long grueling hours the overworking and the challenge of her values and what’s important to her.
So while hearing both sides yanking her back and forth I asked her to get a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side we were going to list all the “reasons” and “opinions” and “voices” that are telling her to stay, and then in the other column list the ones that tell her why she should leave.
And then we just kept digging and digging, listing and listing. She ended up having about 10 each—really cluttering up her brain.
Now, you might think that the obvious next step would be to go with the one that got the most items. But as I suspected would be the case, it was about dead even. Which is no surprise, considering she’s a really smart woman and has been wrestling with this topic for quite some time now. So clearly she’s explored all the reasons really well on both sides. And the fact that both sides are even in their arguments, that’s why she’s stuck.
If it was truly lopsided, then she would have realized her choice long ago and made peace with it.
And that would also be the next step if we were doing this exercise to come up with the answer. But as all coaches know, we’re not out to discover and create the answer, but to open up and find new information—to reveal the client to herself, to help her see something about herself that she either forgot or could’nt see. And in this case, considering she’s stuck in this trap, she really couldn’t see much beyond it.
So instead, I had her go back through the list and rate each “reason” one by one on a scale from one to five—one being not really that important and five being NON NEGOTIABLE. I suspected one or two on each side would be a 5, and of course, there would be perhaps a 2 here and there. What was so exciting was to witness her creating her own scale of what was important and adjusting each “reason” accordingly. What she thought at the beginning of the call was all 5s turned out to be a bunch 3s and 4s.
Sure, you might say, “Well, now just count up the total of each column and go with the higest score.” And that would be a way to go. But again, this exercise isn’t about coming up with the answer. It’s about helping her discover important information that will help her make her choice.
What she then realized was that there were some “reasons” on each end that could actually translate to the other column—you know, like, “If you’re going to leave, then you need to make sure your next job has this.” And the same argument if she stayed. Out of that she was then more able to realize how realistic her “staying” and “going” expectations were.
Lastly, I kept pointing out to her that we were simply using this to help her determine which way she chooses to go. Every time she brought up about how she was going to find a new job or how to make her boss change I reminded her that would come later. It didn’t make sense to plan those things until she was clear and committed to which direction she wanted to go. Otherwise, that other side would jump in and derail her—guaranteed.
Well, as it turns out, one side did get a bigger score than the other.
But instead of jumping on that and saying, “Well, so now you have your answer,” I had her be with this new information. Since she’s not in an urgent place and needed to make a decision immediately, she could let this stew a little, now that she has this insight and information.
Again, if she’s going to choose one way, it’s important that she choose with confidence. Otherwise, she’ll likely slingshot back with regret and doubt.
So who knows what will happen after this, but I thought it was such a simple and sweet little exercise you might have fun with it.
Remember, don’t jump in and assume the answer. Just keep asking your client what they notice. And if they bring up something that points to a next step in the assessment, then go for it.
For example, we could have easily moved to identify what values are tied in with what “reason”, on both sides. (Likely there’s a competition as to what values are more important.)
Then we could mark what fears each reason is revealing (because there are clearly fears that are keeping her from taking action.)
And I’m sure there’s more we could do.
Bear in mind, gang. These are simply things you can do with your client to illicit information and help them discover something. But It’s just a tool. So use them responsibly.