The Choices And Consequences Approach

 

People experience both successes and setbacks. The ways they choose to respond to these experiences can have a profound effect on their futures.

A person who achieves a success can celebrate for a while. They can then be complacent or use the success as a springboard towards continuous improvement.

A person who experiences a setback may need time to reflect. They can then choose to develop or dwell on the disappointment. They can be decisive and shape their futures or just drift.

People make choices all the time. The choices they make have consequences both for themselves and other people. Choosing not to do something is an option – but is also a choice.

Viktor Frankl’s work reached millions through his book Man’s Search For Meaning. The book described his harrowing journey through the Nazi concentration camps.

Surrounded by terror, he wondered how to make sense of this madness. Viktor concluded each person had the freedom to choose their attitude. He described this in the following way.

Man is not free from his conditions, but he is free to take a stand towards his conditions.

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Chance played an enormous part in the death camps, of course, but each person faced choices each day. Viktor describes how it was vital to look alert and ready to work. New arrivals found the ordeal began when the railway trucks drew into the camp sidings.

Recalling his own experience, he describes joining a long line which shuffled towards an SS Officer. The Officer looked at each person and casually pointed to the left or the right. Viktor explains:

It was my turn. Somebody whispered to me that to be sent to the right side would mean work, the way to the left being for the sick and those incapable of work. 

My haversack weighed me down a bit to the left, but I made an effort to walk upright.  

The SS man looked me over, appeared to hesitate, then put both his hands on my shoulders, I tried very hard to look smart, and he turned my shoulders very slowly until I faced right, and I moved over to that side.

Viktor survived the Nazi camps, emigrated to America and worked as a psychiatrist. Working with suicidal people, he recognised the similarity between them and prisoners in the death camps. He recalled two prisoners who talked of taking their lives.

Both men used the typical argument: that they had nothing more to expect from life. The challenge was to show the men that life was still expecting something from them. Viktor continues:

We found, in fact, that for the one it was his child whom he adored and who was awaiting for him in a foreign country. For the other it was a thing, not a person.

This was a scientist and had written a series of books which still needed to be finished. His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’. 

The choices and consequences approach is strongly influenced by decision making theory and existential psychology. It can be used to help people to explore and expand their potential options for achieving their goals.

These themes are embodied in an approach called Choice Therapy and these will be summarised at the end of this section. The approach can be adapted to help people to make choices in many different situations. The following pages give one example.

Dave was somebody I worked with several years ago. A high-flyer in financial businesses, he moved to leading a high-tech company. The early months were promising, but then people began complaining about his management style.

Whilst they admired his drive, they became upset about his mood swings and sniping. His home life was also deteriorating, especially the relationship with his teenage daughter. She was doing well in several school subject, but he criticised her efforts in other areas.

Dave’s view was that his daughter had to get used to what he called  ‘the real world’. But comparing her unfavourably to other classmates did not have the desired effect.

He approached me soon after receiving a warning from the company’s board. Whilst they believed in his business expertise, they were questioning whether his management style would get the best from the company’s knowledge workers.

Dave explained that, for one of the first times in his life, he felt like he was failing. He felt the need to take stock – both as a professional and as a parent.

Looking ahead, we clarified the real results that Dave wanted to achieve. These included the actual words:

He would like his daughter and wife to be saying about him;

He would like the board and the employees to be saying about him; 

He would like to be saying about himself.

We explored his choices – the various routes – he could take towards achieving these goals. Each route had consequences with both pluses and minuses. As with all decision making, the key question to answer was:

What set of consequences did he want?

Dave knew the route he wanted to follow, but sometimes he got impatient and spoke without thinking. At times he could be sarcastic and belittle people. This was followed by him feeling guilty.

Looking back at his life, we explored when Dave had been caring, encouraging and yet also clear when necessary. How could he follow these principles in the future with his family and colleagues?

Dave also needed to recognise the triggers that led to him behaving in a callous way. He then needed to buy time, think and pursue the route that would be more likely to achieve the desired consequences.

His experience mirrored that of many people. They can sometimes choose to be caring, to be callous or to swing between the two extremes.

Dave wanted to follow the caring approach in the future. Looking ahead, we rehearsed the specific things he could do:

To behave in a caring way in both his personal and professional life;

To manage the potential triggers that could lead to him being callous.

During the following months Dave followed his successful style for helping people. He did this in a genuine way. He also got better at buying time to think before saying things that would hurt people.

There are many variations of the choices and consequences approach. Some people arrive at a point where they feel ready to make a decision.

On some occasions, however, the person may be asked to decide how they want to shape their future. This can particularly be the case if they are part of a team or an organisation.

Let’s look at one approach to taking this step. It sounds rather tough, but sometimes it is necessary. This is especially the case if their behaviour is affecting other people.

The Decisiveness
Or Drift Approach

This is an approach that is sometimes used when working with people in demanding environments. Variations of it may be used in therapy interventions or when inviting a talented person to clarify how they want to shape their future.

The approach can be used in a positive and professional way. Whilst it invites a person to make a choice, it is also important to give them time to reflect.

One outcome could be that a person chooses not to make a decision but to continue to drift. That is in itself a decision.

The possible options facing a person will depend on their specific situation, but here are some examples. It may involve asking them something along the following lines.

“What do you want to do in the next part of your life?

“To be healthy or to be unhealthy … To make full use to your talents or to not make full use of your talents … To be fully committed to the role or to not be committed?  

“The first step is to be honest with yourself. The second step will be to clarify your chosen route and to be clear on the consequences. The third step may be to dedicate yourself to following your chosen route and, if you wish, get help on the journey.” 

This sounds tough and is suited to when a person may need to make a key decision. Some people take this approach when facing critical decisions. They then do their best to shape a positive future.

Let’s conclude this piece by exploring how it is sometimes used when working with people in therapeutic situations.

The Choice Therapy Approach

Choice therapy is strongly influenced by existential psychology, reality therapy, logotherapy and the work of some self-help groups.

Like all therapies, it is based on certain assumptions about people. These involve encouraging people yet also expecting them to take responsibility for shaping their futures.

Imagine that you are qualified to provide therapy sessions and that somebody has asked for your help. Below are some of the guidelines you may follow in your own way.

As you can see, this mirrors some of the themes mentioned earlier. People can be helped to clarify their choices and the consequences. They can then pursue their chosen way forwards.

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