I’ve been talking over a conflict with a client who is managing a difficult situation well. They’re a little frustrated that they haven’t been able to reach their preferred conclusion. The one they’d hope for in the best of all possible worlds.
Still, they’ve done a good job. And a few reasonable options are open to them, any of which would be perfectly acceptable for them to pursue. We talk over the pros and cons of each. And they leave, knowing what they’ll likely do but still not feeling good about it.
“Isn’t there anything else?” they ask me.
I think for a while before answering. “No,” I reply. I tell them every path before them carries with it a degree of risk. And each path has its upside but one that’s counterbalanced with a downside.
Later, they come back to me saying they had sought several other opinions after talking with me but that nobody offered anything new and certainly not anything that felt any better.
When Life Gets Messy
I’m talking things over in general terms later with a colleague. They commiserate, say they’ve seen the same things countless times themselves in the past.
“This happens in those gray area topics,” they say. “When life gets a bit messy.”
“It’s funny how simple the ways to handle it are though, once you separate it properly,” they continue. “People just think there must be something they’re missing since it doesn’t align with how they feel.”
“Yeah,” I say. “People expect that if they’re doing things the ‘right way’ that they’ll hear a satisfying click emotionally. They think that the right thing will always feel neat and correct. But it won’t.”
“It won’t,” my colleague replies.
Learning to Be Satisfied with Trying Hard Enough
I could get frustrated with this… and I suppose I probably would, if I didn’t remember the times when I was in the advice seeker’s shoes.
It’s especially bad for people with people pleasing tendencies, this reality that the right choice won’t always feel right. (And sometimes all of the choices available to you will seem wrong.)
Part of working through my own people pleasing was learning to just have processes that I could follow where I would have tried hard enough. And leaning to accept that could be enough, having tried enough.
That it was okay to walk away with a compromise, an ending that was okay. Where maybe not everyone involved understood or thanked you — or any of that unrealistic glossy movie magic we’re sold our entire lives of a happy ending.
That maybe you had to learn to be able to be satisfied with knowing you tried hard enough (no matter what anyone said).
Sometimes It’s About Teaching People What to Do to Try Hard Enough
I keep that in mind now that I’m on the other side of difficult interpersonal conflicts so much. Now that I’m rarely the advice seeker but often the advice giver. That sometimes what I’m doing isn’t empowering people to get the happy ending with no strings attached (although that happens sometimes — and when it does it’s quite nice, for the people living it and for me as a small part of it).
Sometimes what I’m doing is teaching everyone to try hard enough. To give things the best chance they can realistically have. And a process to work through so that they can know they gave things a reasonable try.
Even if that solid try doesn’t lead to the happy ending.
Or a right that feels right for everyone.