Several years ago I was at a client’s office cleaning up a slight mess caused by an assistant who forgot to complete some paperwork. Not a big deal, I was able to fix it before there was a real problem like an uncovered claim or something along those lines. The cost of the fix was an additional $500 which really irritated my client. Not sure if it was with me, his assistant or the insurance company but from his actions it was quite clear he was pissed. He went on and on and on about how it could have put him out of business, $500 is a lot of money, sh.. this, g damn that, can’t people follow simple directions, who’s covering the $500 and so on.
Finally, about five minutes into his rant I said it just like it is written so as not to agitate him but show I was in shock “Daaaang, you just keep going on like someone died. Let me ask you one question – Are your kids still alive and healthy?”
You could see the instant look of shock on his face as he paused, thought about what he was going to say, looked straight at me and said with an air of surprise in his voice “you aren’t going to pull that one on me are you?”
I quickly interjected so that he couldn’t misinterpret the intent and said “You should have heard yourself. I didn’t even know who you were there nor did I want to like you. It was easily five minutes and you were still rolling so I had to interject with a shocking statement to make you stop.” Not wanting him to cut in until I was done I kept talking “In the scheme of things, is it really a big deal? Based on your revenues, $500 is a very small percentage and price to pay for a learning lesson. There are much bigger issues at hand to concern yourself with than this.”
He paused, looked around for a bit and couldn’t help but have the last word, which I knew he would, and said half smiling “I understand but still I’m pissed that you took away every reason for me to be upset.” We finished business and I sat wondering whether my comments would strain our relationship. He did call a week or so later and thanked me for the reality check but added that he was still pissed I did it. I asked him if he was really pissed I said it and he laughed while saying “yeah, I like venting every once in a while but now every time I start, I think about what you said and I just can’t get very upset after all…you bastard.”
That’s his way of thanking me for the reality check while still showing he’s tough – I know I hit a nerve but outwardly letting me know it would show vulnerability, not very masculine in his book.
I have had some hard conversations with folks who have had similar experiences to mine especially those who have lost a child as this single event can ruin someone’s life by causing them to simply give up. The way I see it, I can have these conversations because I have lived through their ordeal and know within a margin of error of less than 1% what they’re thinking and feeling and what they want to say. I wish I didn’t, but I do and since I do I may as well help them through it so that they don’t make choices like I have seen so many others do.
An example of this is a dad who lost his oldest child, who had nothing but what would seem to be a great life ahead of him. When he finally went back to work he and I spoke and he told me that he was really struggling with doing anything more than routine tasks that took little to no effort. He said that as soon as he had to put more than simple routine thought into anything he felt like giving up, quitting his job and curling up in a ball.
Yes, I know exactly how he feels as I still feel this way at times and probably will for the rest of my life. The thought of your child no longer being here, no longer coming home from school, going out with his buddies, playing catch with you in the backyard or sitting down to a meal at the dinner table with the rest of the family is overwhelming. If you let it creep in, it will consume you and control your actions even resulting in complacency and inaction. It takes a conscious effort to thwart the attack and in this case I offered up some hard talk that I hope hit home as it is what I use to conquer the thought demons that are trying to cause me to give up and fail.
Of course, I asked first if I could offer up some hard talk and he said he needs something. I started right in by saying “Don’t be selfish. If you give up now you’re only thinking of yourself and you cannot do that. You have to think about your wife and other kids. You have to think about your employer and co-workers. You have to step outside yourself and think of others first and what negative impact you will have on everyone’s life if you give up.” There was silence and he hesitantly said “okay” as if it was a question rather than an agreement. I knew he needed more clarification so I continued.
“You hold a very high level job where a lot of people depend on your success in completing the task correctly and efficiently. If you give up and lose your clients, you will lose your job and your family will suffer. If a big enough chunk of revenue goes away, some or all of those on your team will lose their jobs. Some of those that lose their jobs have kids in college that they will no longer be able to afford. Some won’t be able to take a much needed vacation. Customers may end up doing business with second rate providers and their businesses will suffer. It’s a trickle down reaching way beyond just you my friend.” He admitted that he never thought of it this way and was shocked by the amount of other people’s fate he held in his hands. He thanked me and we hung up.
About a week later we spoke again and he said that he had drummed up conversations with those he knows depend on his performance. He was shocked to actually learn how far reaching the consequences would be if he were to simply give up. Not only would some miss out on vacations and not be able to afford college, but he went on to add that if any of his team’s kids had to drop out of college, they might end up working at a low paying job the rest of their life rather than becoming an attorney, a doctor or stock broker. Their lost hopes and dreams would be on his shoulders.
A chain reaction like this may seem a little far-fetched and whether it is or not, thoughts like this have allowed him to redirect his focus from only thinking about himself to thinking about what ramifications his actions, or inactions, will have on others. While I am not a licensed psychologist or therapist, I have been asked for advice on how I “do it.” As long as they’re open to some “hard talk,” I cut to the chase and tell them to stop being selfish by wanting to give up. That’s where the conversation begins, where it goes depends on whether they’re just saying they want to change or if they really do want to change.