Stuck on a problem?

Has it ever happened to you to get stuck in a decision or thinking pattern that becomes blocking? Here a story I heard from my father and passed on through generations:

“Once upon a time there was a gentleman of about 40-ies, married and with kids. One morning he decided to go to the market and headed to the prairie where his horse would normally graze. To his great surprise as he approached the horse took off. He kept running to exhaustion without any results; once he would come close, the horse would run off again. Drained of all the energy, he swore: “If I ever catch you and get onto you again, I’ll divorce my wife if I ever step down from you”. Back then, family unity was sacred.

At some point, he eventually got hold of the horse. A man of word as he was, he got onto the horse and ordered food, covers, etc., preparing for his long days and nights on the back of the horse. As family and friends saw this happening, they warmly discouraged him, but he had taken a decision, and keeping his world was primordial.

Days passed by and his wife was getting crazy of seeing her husband running a horse life. At a certain stage his body was all aching and he felt he could not move his feet. Alarmed, she convinced him to see the wise men of the city.

The wise men, were sitting next to a 300 years old plane tree – beautiful, imposing and full of life. He approached and greeted the man while staying over the horse; a gesture perceived as unfriendly and rude. One of the wise men, takes the word and says:

“It would be much better if you could greet us from the ground and not from the horse.” The man on the horse starts to tell this story. The wise man listens full of compassion, he nods his head and then asks the gentlemen:

“Can you get close under the big branch of this tree? Closer ..just a little bit more. “

Can you make as if you are reaching for the leaves? The man follows instructions, making a big stretching.

“Can you make as if you can grasp those leaves … and that branch? He stretched but could not achieve the branch so he stepped over the back of the horse.

“Can you make as if you are getting closer on the right? All by holding on the branch?” 

“Can you make as if you can get closer to the trunk? Can you make as if you can hold into it?”  The man had suddenly taken his feet of the horse!

“Can you make as if you slowly slide down the trunk? .. a little bit more .. still a little bit more .. there you are .. let the trunk and turn around … The man was astonished to see himself standing on the ground.

The wise man asks: “How did you get down, from the horse or from the trunk of the plane tree?”

From the tree .. certainly!   – He jumped of joy and returned happily to his wife and kids at peace to re-live his life and not having broken his oath.

Since then people in those corners often advice: “ You can always step off a horse from a plane tree!”

All it takes to unlock a blocking situation is changing perspective to what is blocking and to the possible options!

It’s all self-respect

Being a prey of bad-faith is no stranger to most of us. Personally, there was nothing that would prompt my rage and aggravate my self-confidence more then discovering that someone had tricked me. I have learned, however, that anger and disillusion make simply bad strategies, and found out other ways to leap triumph sincerity.

Bad-faith, or lack of sincerity complicates human relations; it comprises our personal values and those of a whole society. Thus, not easy to address and, yet, important to confront. What its bad-faith? What in everyday is referred to as lack of sincerity or lying, bad faith is a state of mental incongruence, lack of lucidity and lack of self-esteem. In the bad faith there is always a hidden intention, a conscious desire or motivation, which we think we cannot achieve if we express it directly or openly.

Have you ever come across a person that justifies its actions using excuses that are incoherent? That avoids giving arguments and deflects your questions or bursts into aggressiveness when you’re close to understanding the truth? How often do you hear people saying “I swear, sincerely speaking …, just to say the truth …,” only to discover that all that was a lie?

Typically, a bad-faith person will do everything to defend its excuses, and save face… and this may bring casualties!

Hence, if we decide to confront the bad faith, then, we need to clarify WHY – are we confronting bad-faith:

  • What interests are at stakes?
  • Is the relationship at risk?
  • What resources do we have to confront the bad-faith person (time, power, money ..)?

Having clarified the WHY, we can then choose our approach.

I want to share with you two approaches that I’ve found useful: the save face and the daring sincerity. The 2 approaches have in common a fundamental communication skill: Active listening, which is about respecting the sequential order of: Observing – Listening – Reframing – Expressing our thoughts.

Where they differ is the GOAL.

“Save face” approach.

We choose the “save face” approach when we want to:

  • Discourage the other person in pursuing his/her fake approach for achieving the real objective.
  • Verify and ascertain that the person is being insincere.
  • Save face of the other person.

When our purpose is not only to dissuade but also to preserve a sound relationship with the other person, then we shall go one step further and deploying the approach of “Daring Sincerity”. This builds on the “save face” approach, and takes it further to uncovering the real, hidden objective. How can we apply this in practice?

With the “save face” approach, we are a kind of “lutenant Columbo”.

  • Initially we pretend not to understand, and ask for clarifications
  • We analyse arguments or excuses for traces of incoherence. When incoherence is qualified,
  • We invite the other person to elaborate on the logic of his/her excuses – up to the point where newly improvised excuses become un-defendable, and the other person gives up and reveals the real objective.
  • And then we hear .. “ok, ok, I did not tell you anything about the exam, because the result is bad, and I don’t want you to limit my time out with friends… 

In applying this approach, three skills come to play: able to play the naïve, capable to challenge the coherence of the excuses, and be persistent.

What I have learned is that this approach requires a state of mind that combines force and empathy, a good dose of self-respect and certainly a good dose of compassion for the other. Finally, the good results emerge when giving up the real objective does not become as a drama and when the other person can save face.

“Daring sincerity”

When our purpose is to preserve a sound relationship with the other person, then we shall go one step further to uncover the real, hidden objective. Bringing the discussion at this point means that you:

  1. Make an objective demonstration of the existence of the real, hidden objective.
  2. Pursue a discussion to connect and align on the value that each side puts on the sincerity in the relations.
  3. Propose and establish a new way of communicating.

Most of the people stop at demonstration of the objective, and blow up relationships. We would use this approach depending on what you believe to be the aptitude of the other person for accepting a stretched out hand, and the pact of sincerity it contains.

In brief …

Some may believe that “man is a wolf to man”, but there are approaches that can help dissuade bad faith and re-establish relationships on a good-faith bases. Managing bad faith is a talent that can be developed – it takes only little knowledge, some know-how and – a lot of presence and consciousness. I talked about 2 approaches – the “save face” and the “daring sincerity”, where the first one simply saves face, while the second one gives new blood to a relationship. Smooth and non-intrusive as they may look, these approaches are an investment on sustainable relationships.

Not all investments give a return, but taking the risk of applying such approaches is all about self-respect and a better world.