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Extra Pickles, Please!


Asking for what you want is easy as pie for some people. If it’s easy for you, read no further. Unless of course you want to better understand your fellow humans, like the ones who struggle with even asking for extra pickles on a Wendy’s hamburger.

In my coaching experience, I see people in dysfunctional relationships stumble all over each other in passive or indirect ways of NOT asking for what they want. I have literally heard hundreds of clients express complaints about not having what they want, and explain it away using blame language.

It can be terrifying for people to be trapped inside the “don’t ask so I don’t make things worse” cage. As a coach, I listen carefully to the language used by my clients, and quickly identify a client in need of empowerment coaching.

This is the red flag of “victim,” and the antidote is authentic empowerment.

pickle bros

Aaron, a 37-year old accountant, is successful at work and has several close colleagues with whom he negotiates his client workload. However, Aaron cannot bring himself to call the mother of his 2-year old twin daughters who lives two blocks away, and ask to take the girls to the park on a sunny Sunday. “She makes the plans,” Aaron says, “and I hate to upset her.” So he spends the day playing with his border collie at the park instead of seeing his girls.

Colin, a step-dad of three teenage girls, rarely inserts his expectations for their behavior regarding school-work, chores, and curfews. Although he has lived with their mother for 8 years, he keeps distance from the girls. This creates sadness and confusion for Colin; he wishes he could be a greater influence in their lives but he doesn’t want to intrude.

Margarite is married to Miguel, and wakes up at 5 am to make coffee and breakfast for her husband. She works 2nd shift and does not get to bed until 12:30 a.m., so getting up at 5 a.m. is a big sacrifice of her sleep. “Oh, Miguel is a good cook but he expects me to do it, just like his mother did for his father,” explains Margarite. She has never asked him if she could prepare something the night before and leave it ready to heat for him.

And Sandra, a stay-at-home mother, feels criticized often by her husband of twelve years. “No matter what I do, he finds something wrong with me, and would even criticize me if I ordered extra pickles on my hamburger. So I just try to stay quiet and go along with whatever he wants,” Sandra softly mumbled in my office one day. While it doesn’t stop the criticism, it makes Sandra feel a little safer to keep her preferences and opinions to herself, no matter how trivial or how significant they may be.

All four of these clients (names have been changed) were able to tell me their victim story, and slowly realize the possibilities of integrating authentic empowerment into their daily lives.

Empowerment is about choices

As a coach, it’s not my job to find solutions for my clients; rather, I ask questions and give them a process by which they can determine their own choices and action steps in alignment with their values. I also assist clients to develop the skills to use their voice in an authentic way – to either respectfully speak up, or elect not to. Empowerment comes from the realization of choice – and having the courage and skills to say “YES” or “NO” in any given situation.

Three reasons why people are NOT empowered to speak up in relationships:

1) They value harmony over authenticity. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and link conflict with difficult emotions.

In a September, 2017 blog post, Why Do People Avoid Conflict, Psychologist Harper West writes, “Frequently, when children do not feel heard, they grow up overly concerned about the needs of others.” This results in being overly sensitive to rejection and too eager for connection – an intolerance of the natural give and take in relationships.

Unfortunately, avoiding conflict doesn’t really reduce the tension. Issues can actually become bigger and resentment grows.

2) They don’t have the skills to speak up. They have never practiced in a “safe” environment where they will not be ridiculed or judged for their authentic opinion. People in relationships develop habits to navigate the interactions. Unfortunately, bad habits can grow into life-long interactional patterns where one person feels powerless.

3) Limited thinking interferes with good decision making about when and how to speak up. Some people never develop good skills for considering lots of options before getting locked in to one solution. Coaching is a productive way to step back and look at a situation from multiple angles, thus finding an empowered approach that feels realistic and authentic.

Affirmation: I make good choices and speak up in ways that are in alignment with my values.

Let me know how I can support you in authentic empowerment.