Winning arguments is hard, but often, the hardest person to convince is yourself. The reason is that the person has run out of the capacity to have new perspectives. Similar to Plato’s allegory of the cave where reality is defined by only what is projected, we often get so comfortable in our “caves” that it becomes extremely difficult to see beyond the circumstances we have set down as “reality.” A client may have a general satisfaction in a certain area but can’t identify what is causing that feeling.
This is where I like to turn to what one of my favorite contemporary thinkers Daniel Pink calls Jedi Mind Tricks. If it sounds nefarious, it’s not. It’s essentially using a line of questioning that subverts the responses your interlocutor expects to give and forces them to look within for the true answer. Its clinical name is motivational interviewing.
In Pink’s example he is trying to convince his daughter to clean her room. For us, we are typically asking ourselves to do something. The intention is to access a person’s true motivations by asking two “irrational” questions. Let’s say I have a client who is thinking about leaving her job. Let’s say she’s unhappy with the board. For the first question, I might ask, from 1 to 10, 1 being “I’m never going back,” and 10 being, “This is the best possible situation for me, I love my job,” how would you rate your current happiness with the board?
Unless she is really ready to quit and knows exactly why, she will probably choose a low number, but not the lowest. Here we have the opportunity to put these feelings into context by asking why that number is not lower. This gives her the sudden and unexpected opportunity to try to see what positives are actually there. Well, it could be worse if… or I guess I do like how… are the beginning of two statements that might start building some important context for decision-making.
Typically from this experience, a path starts to appear. Not a yellow brick road but an overgrown jungle path that, with full focus and attention and a good sharp machete, can lead you to where you ultimately want to be.
On the other hand, if the answer really truly is a 1 out of 10 there are a couple different steps to take. First, go straight to the source of what is making the experience so unbearable. Identify it and determine if it can be changed or eliminated. If the source of this problem truly cannot be changed enough to make a tangible difference in your experience, it’s time to make an exit.