Do You Believe That They Are Doing the Best They Can?
Only by truly believing that people are doing the best they can are you able to support them in living their best financial lives.
If you work in the social service sector (and in the financial capability field in particular), do you believe that your clients are doing the best that they can?
Hang on; this may not be an easy question to answer.
If you are sitting by yourself reading this post your knee-jerk reaction might be, “Heck no! My clients miss appointments, they don’t bring the documents that I ask for, and sometimes they act like they don’t want to be here. I can see so much room for improvement, so there is no way that they are doing the best that they can.” In my years of consulting and training I have heard professionals say this to me over and over, inferring that if these clients would follow the program ascribed by their agencies then they would be on the road to financial stability.
Or you might swing to the other end of the pendulum with this response: “There are so many factors working against my clients, like sexism and institutional racism. That’s too much for one person to overcome to achieve financial stability. My job is important because I can take part of the load off of my clients, doing tasks to improve their finances that they are not able to themselves.” This is a refrain that I have also heard from my consulting clients and training participants. While this response makes those professionals feel like they are doing important work (and don’t get me wrong, they are), at the same time I wonder if this discounts what those clients are capable of doing themselves to improve their financial lives.
People Are Doing the Best They Can with the Tools that They Have
“My life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” – Brené Brown, Rising Strong
Brené Brown is one of my “sheros” and I have written about her work in an earlier post (see Talking About Money Book Club: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown). Brené is a social work researcher, prolific writer, and author of five books who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. I remind myself of the quote above because I think that it is essential to the work that financial capability professionals do in helping people live their best financial lives.
It is important to believe that people are doing the best that they can with the tools that they have. When a client comes to your office not having completed the checklist that you gave them in the previous appointment it is frustrating. You want the best for them, and at the same time you might have a quarterly report due to your funder highlighting your program’s work, so on one level you are invested in their success because it is going to be reflected in your success.
Instead of what your client didn’t do in the time between their two appointments, what if instead you focused on what they did do? Quiz them on what has happened in their life recently:
Maybe they have begun to think of money in a different way than they had before
Maybe they had a hard money conversation with a friend or family member that will change the trajectory of how they view money in the future
Maybe they have started a positive money habit or stopped a negative money habit
And maybe these anecdotes are stories that you can include on that next quarterly report to highlight to your funder what is going right with your clients, because they are doing the best they can with the tools that they have.
People are Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole
“We believe that everyone is a leader, and that we are all naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” – Co-Active Training Institute
This is a premise of the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI), a well-known professional coach training program. It is a sort of a mantra that I have heard repeated by professional coaches. But I will admit that in the past I had client engagements when afterwards I vocalized the question, “Creative, resourceful, and whole? Really?”
It was through my own professional coach training and a whole lot of practice that I came to believe that the people that I engage with are truly naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. After all, they are grown-ups that have been living their lives independently for all the days leading up until they met me, so why not believe that they have been creative and resourceful along the way?
After accepting this truth about my clients an amazing thing happened: They began to show me the ways in which they are creative and resource, such as:
The client who enrolled in an evening professional training program, negotiating with the instructor to let her 10 year-old son sit quietly in the back of the room and read, so that she could get the certificate required to get an entry-level job and avoid paying for a babysitter with money she did not have. That job gave her the income she needed avoid eviction from her apartment.
The client who during a group coaching session experienced an epiphany that money is not “the root of all evil,” but rather a tool that can be used to improve the lives of others. After the light bulb went on for this client she opened three savings accounts – one for her daughter, one for her granddaughter, and one for the down payment on a first home – and began making regular deposits.
The client who realized after attending the classes required for a matched-savings program that her seemingly insurmountable money problems were not the inescapable disasters she once thought, but rather puzzles that could be solved, and that she had the skills, knowledge and self-confidence to solve them. She went on the successfully negotiate and purchase a reliable used car for cash and within her budget.
Aligning Ration and Emotion
“One way to motivate action, then, is to make people feel as though they’re already closer to the finish line than they might have thought.” ― Chip Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Chip and Dan Heath are brothers and authors of four books positioned in the business space but easily applicable to the social service world, as they write about making communication stickier, leading successful change, and improving decision making. Chip and Dan believe that sometimes you need to trick your clients into believing that they are capable of success.
For example, I start my first-time home buyer classes by congratulating my students for simply leaving their houses. I say, “I want to start by congratulating you for being here. Taking this class is the first important step in achieving your dream of home ownership. You made the conscious choice that after a long’s day work you decided to fend off the weather and brave the traffic to get here, so good for you.” This starts the class with a deserved pat-on-the-back and gets them ready for the challenges to come.