Seeing the truth

By Jenny Campbell|February 20, 2019|Resilience Coaching|

The Truth Behind Denial, Resilience Engine, Jenny Campbell, coaching

Helping your client understand for real the ‘resilience data’ of any situation they find themselves in – under the cosh, in crisis, or with complex opportunities to navigate – is a fundamental of resilience coaching.

Resilience is your capacity for change. So it is with someone’s resilience that the following, similar to Timothy Gallwey insights from his Inner Game Series,

Resilience today (ie capacity for change today)   = Resilience Potential – Resilience Demand

To therefore see what within the coaching can enable change, you need to help the client understand the ‘resilience data’ of their situation. You as the coach need to be able to read this also, and make informed choices of what you offer the client in the coaching session, since the client may not have capacity for some of what you have planned.  Since resilience goes up and down, it’s about honestly assessing the conditions for what drives the ups, and what drives the downs.

But your client – and indeed you – might be in denial. Dr GlebTsipursky, a behavioural scientist of Ohio State University  who researches denialism talks about an interesting dynamic that happens:

Someone is in denial. They may exhibit the Ostrich effect. They refute the facts, or indeed, may spread mistruths.

If your instinct is to help them address the facts of the situation, you can get what Tsipursky and others of his profession call the ‘ backfire effect’:

Research on a phenomenon called the backfire effect shows we tend to dig in our heels when we are presented with facts that cause us to feel bad about our identity, self-worth, worldview or group belonging… In some cases, presenting the facts actually backfires, causing people to develop a stronger attachment to incorrect beliefs. Moreover, we express anger at the person bringing us the message, a phenomenon researchers term “shoot the messenger.”  GlebTsipursky from The Truth Seekers Handbook

What Tsipursky and his colleagues talk about is that it’s not the facts that are the issue.  To change the situation or outcome, you need to address the emotions that lie behind facing the truth.

The Interference Effects

There could be a number of drivers at play that mean the client denies the truth.

There is confirmation bias.

Imagine that your client sees themselves as a person who always gets through challenges. Then the resilience demand rises and rises.  The client buckles down, determined to succeed. This goes on, and on, and despite the client struggling – with the ensuring dangers of performance and wellbeing drops – they continue. They can’t see what’s happening and continue to assume they will be ok. It’s the path towards burnout unless something shifts.

The client’s confirmation bias told them that they always got through challenges. To be open to accept that they couldn’t get through all the challenges in their normal way required a flexible response – seeing the truth of the matter and calling in for help, or saying no to a number of things. Not accepting the reality of situation can lead your client to not coping, and that can lead into unwellness.

There is the sunk cost fallacy.

There is the denial that a past decision was not good, and instead, you keep with the same solution, denying that it’s not working.  Tsipursky has a brilliant example of what he and his behavioural science colleagues call this ‘sunk cost fallacy’:

“In another example at a company where I consulted, a manager refused to acknowledge that a person hired directly by her was a bad fit, despite everyone else in the department telling me that the employee was holding back the team. The manager’s behavior likely resulted from what scholars term the sunk cost fallacy, a tendency to double down on past decisions even when an objective assessment shows the decision to be problematic”.

The client may genuinely have not experienced another way.

Your client is a high performer, or at least on the way up. That means working long hours, working weekends, taking on more projects, saying yes to the tough stuff, being flexible but also tough. Right?

The models around your client – what’s in the system, what’s in their family expectations, the way things have always been, may just have carved a path that is a one-way ticket to overload. Despite all the management or leadership programmes, or books on how it might be otherwise, this engrained groove in the client means a singular perspective only. Without another perspective, how could they consider anything different?

Being resilient means assuming always there is another way.

All of these factors,  the confirmation bias,  the sunk cost fallacy, and just the sheer lack of experience, end up with a denial about the truth of a situation, and all are in order to avoid experiencing the emotions that the truth will entail. The fact that someone is not flexible enough to take account of changing circumstances or indeed mistakes – is in itself resilience data.

The Bottom Line of Truth

Helping the client face the truth of their‘resilience data’ is a massive leveller. It’s the first step towards acceptance, and that in turn opens out the possibility of change.

How can you approach this in your own practice?

The Resilience engine Community of Practice have all embedded this skill of seeing the ‘resilience  data’ in their practice. To become one of the community o this kind of thinking into your practice, see our accreditation programme which is both public via the AOEC or can be run inhouse.

Author: Jenny Campbell, CEO of The Resilience Engine

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