A Coaching Power Tool By Panos Patsadas, Career Coach, AUSTRIA
What Is the Difference Between Assumption vs. Reality
During the last 10 months and after having several peer coaching sessions I have started observing certain patterns which seem to arise very often with clients, irrespective of the particular situation/task they bring to the table. One typical example is people feeling stuck in a situation, or relationship, not because there is no solution but because they “assume” what the outcome of a hypothetical action might be, which then either prevents action altogether or predetermines the result based on experience.
The pattern is asf: The client brings to a session an issue from their private or work-life and very often it is not just one issue they bring on the table but two or three mixed. To establish the coaching agreement we have to make the client aware of the different issues they bring to the table and allow the client to decide which one they would like to focus on in the session. The client will pick the subject they feel is more critical for them at that particular time, and then we can start exploring with the client their chosen subject. More often than not, when describing the issue at hand, the client will refer to a past situation, or describe this as a repeating pattern in their life, work, with similar outcomes. We are then confronted with the cycle in which the client is trapped, and though we may inadvertently touch on an experience to understand the cycle, the triggers, the thought patterns better, we want to try and make the client move forward. There are different ways to try and help the client break this cycle, but one I have found particularly effective is the power tool I call Assumption vs. Reality.
In this power tool, the approach is to ask the client to follow their regular pattern of thought and have them walk the cycle up to the point where they “don’t or can’t or refuse to take action” in the present situation. When asking the client how they feel they could best act to resolve the situation, or what could assist them in doing so, we are often met with replies such as:
- a) “I have tried this in the past and it didn’t work“ or
- b) “I don’t know what to do or how to act”, or that
- c) “there is no point in taking action because I know what will happen”.
Except for the case where the client is not yet clear and they very honestly reply with “I don’t know” whereby we need to allow the client time and space to explore further possible actions, in the other cases, we have what I would describe as the “Assumption” loop.
In this loop, the client a) either assume that an older case is similar to the present, thus assuming that taking ANY action will yield the same result, or b) the client avoids taking action altogether assuming the result will be identical as in the past.
We first need to make the client aware of this paradox of “Assumption” by asking the client to describe how they feel a situation in present time, is or might be similar to a previous case. I have observed that in many sessions, although the situation can indeed be described as similar, the person and their circumstances are rather different than they were in the past. Asking the client explorative questions can help the client identify that while two situations may look similar, does not mean that circumstances surrounding them are the same, nor that the client is still the same person they were in the past. I have found that once the client has been confronted with actual differences between two previously seemingly similar situations, we have opened the door for the client to examine their present situation on its own merits. So by challenging the Assumption Cycle, we can help the client cut loose from past bias and focus on what is the most important part which is to take action in the present situation.
With the client has identified the differences between past and present situations, we can try to turn the client’s focus to the present, and help them define their unique present reality. This is the second part of the power tool I call Reality. Now we create space for the client to come up with ideas or solutions that will help them move forward. It is very likely the client might still be holding on to the old cycle, and assuming that any action they choose to take now, may yield the same result. Once we ask them what have they discovered about the old and the new situation in our previous part of the session, the clients then realize that in fact, they identified the two situations as being different. Giving them sufficient space, and allowing them to elaborate on actions to overcome the present task, we can follow-up with questions such as: “how can applying the same action to two different situations affect the result? “ This exercise will help the client apply a known to their action to a different reality, thus opening up the prospect that the result, does not necessarily need to be the same, because the situation is different, and the person may well be different to that of the past.
Of course, we want to allow the client sufficient space to come up with new actions, which use the same logic, even if two situations are similar, applying a different action certainly allows for the possibility that the outcome does not need to be the same. By defining the Reality and differentiating it from the past Reality, and the Person from the Past Person, we achieve two things. We can help the client overcome the bias that taking the same action will yield the same result because we have helped the client establish that the two situations are different, this result does not need to be the same, even if the action is the same. At the same time we allow the client to consider taking different actions to those they took in the past because even if the two situations are considered identical, the actions are different thus can yield a different result. I find this approach very useful because it allows the client to take forward action even if they have not convinced themselves 100% that history will not repeat itself. Different Actions in the Same situations or the same Action in Different situations are very likely to produce different results.
Assumption vs. Reality a Flexible Method
I consider this power tool of Assumption vs. Reality as a very flexible method for several reasons.
First, it is centered around the uniqueness of each person’s particular present reality but also allows the client to introspect and create awareness around their evolution as individuals. People grow, and change with time, and very often because they are caught up in the difficulty of a situation, they tend to forget this fact. They fall into the trap of considering themselves the same person they were once upon a time a long time ago when a similar situation took place. Thus they fall into a loop of comparing apples with pares, both in terms of personal growth as well as dissimilar situations.
Secondly, it allows the client to make progress irrespective of if they have managed to break the cycle or not. We have two tools in our hands, which are to make the client realize the difference in circumstances or to make clients realize the difference in themselves from an earlier version in the past.
Once the client has reached a realization of one or the other, then they are already halfway to taking decisive action. Because they are logically convinced that the outcome can be different since part or all of the parameters are different than they used to be, thus steering away from creating analogies with the past. It will allow certain clients to take known action they are comfortable with, and apply it to a situation with a different mindset (Being more committed, optimistic, determined) or allow clients who make a faster breakthrough take radical different action, because not only have they realized that they are faced with a different situation to that of the past, but they also carry the confidence of having realized that they as persons have evolved since the last time they faced a similar situation.
Assumption vs. Reality Personal Breakthrough
For me developing this Assumption vs. Reality Power Tool has been a personal breakthrough, because a few months ago I could only think of a power tool in the context of specific case studies. After spending hours of thinking sessions I have had with peers, and also drawing on my own experience as a client, I realized that each situation we face is unique, and we are unique individuals at any given time in our lives and not static. When I sought the help of a coach many years ago to help me manage a Business vs Friendship situation I was stuck in, in retrospect, I realized that I never considered that, no matter how difficult the situation was, I had grown tremendously because of it. Even if it did not feel like this at the time. I hope that using this power tool I can make many of my future clients realize the uniqueness of every situation, and the uniqueness of ourselves at different points in our lives, which make every case study unique, and its solution open to design and definition in the way it best helps the client.