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  • Writer's pictureEdward Dreslinski

If you hear either of these two phrases you need to ask more questions!

Anyone that has worked with me would tell you that I value effort over outcome. Positive outcomes are just the icing on the cake. However, we all know that sometimes we may do everything "right" and still not get the desired outcome. Unfortunately, people sometimes think that just saying effort is being put forth abscond them from consequences. So if you ever say the following two phrases be prepared to follow it up or to ask follow up questions when you hear them:

"I'm trying" and "Be patient."

I hear both of these in sessions a lot. Sometimes it is "he/she/they are trying." The truth is that if I say, "Great! How are they trying?" or "What are we being patient for?" and you can't answer you're in trouble. It is highly unlikely that a person is putting forth any effort into making whatever change they were going to if they can't even tell what that means. They are likely in one of the first two stages of change.

There are six stages of change:






Termination/Relapse (positive/negative results)

In the first stage people are either in complete denial that there is something that needs to change or they feel like they are incapable of making the changes necessary. These are people that make a lot of false promises. They know other people want them to change but there is no real desire or call to action.

In the second stage people may know that they need to change but feel powerless to do anything about it. Maybe they think they can't do it. Maybe they think the payoff isn't worth the effort. For whatever reason, there is no momentum.

In all the other stages of change people should be able to tell you what actions they are taking to make the change possible. These are the people you want to fight for.

The best way to handle this in interpersonal dynamics is to set tangible goals that can be measured. A lot of times when I'm working with people with relationship struggles they really try to convince me that their partner is "doing work." But when I ask them what the work is people almost always have no answer. They simply come back with, "Well what am I doing?" My response is simple: "You are here. You come in every week and try to work on your own issues. Is your partner in therapy?" You'd be surprised how often something as simple as this is an "aha" moment.

We always want to fight for people that are putting forth effort. When we are putting forth effort we want others to know it so they want to fight for us. You aren't being a bad [partner/kid/parent/friend/employee] if you ask them for specifics. It can actually be a catalyst for a more meaningful relationship because we are expressing sincere interest in what is happening in their life. Just don't let people indefinitely tell you that they are trying or that you need to be patient. It's a recipe for perpetual disappointment.

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