Recently, A lawyer client told me that she was living the worst case scenario. Nothing was going right in her life or her practice. Cases in litigation seem to be going downhill. Her clients weren’t paying timely. And she was dealing with adversaries who were bullying her at every turn. Everything was going wrong. She was in despair and depression. There was no hope and no light at the end of the tunnel.
How do we respond to such a comment from someone? As lawyers, we identify the issues and provide a solution. As a therapist, we do the same, but in a different way, focusing more on the emotions and feelings of the person making the statement, with the intent that the other person feels like they are understood. As individuals in everyday life, we may do a little of both, depending on our skill sets and our relationship to the other person.
In this case, and logically, it’s probably not the worst case scenario. With a little imagination, things could actually be far worse. What is important is that the person making the statement is simply feeling so badly that their first attempt at expressing how they feel comes out with this exaggerated statement.
So how do we handle this? Empathize, investigate, challenge, and foster hope.
The first step is to truly understand the person, or at least make a genuine attempt to understand what they’re feeling. This not only includes your understanding, but conveying your understanding to the other so that they believe you understand them. At a minimum, your attempt to understand the other person results in the other believing or feeling you are attempting to understand them.
Second, explore the bases for this feeling. Do so gently, without unnecessary judgment or opinion from your own frame of reference.
Third, suggest there may be other ways to approach viewing the world. Is there another lens with which to look at the world or the scenario in which the other is presently? If possible, provide the conditions for the other to come to the conclusion that they have found another way to look at things. It’s much more effective and lasting when the person you are speaking with has the epiphany, as opposed to you telling them how it is.
Lastly, attempt to instill hope in the person. This could be anything from a cheerful anecdote to creating a map or guideline to success. Together, create something that sets a desirable goal.
To put the answer to the question of what do we do with such a person in the negative, avoid dismissing the emotion and discounting the perception, then providing a quick solution. This, unfortunately, comes off as invalidating. In this case, this might be the worst thing you could do to that other person – the worst case scenario.
As always, I am happy to discuss further.