Play Nice or Tell it Straight

Imagine that your employer always has nice comments to share with you about your work.  Sounds great, right?  You feel as though you must be doing a great job and you’ll certainly get a large bonus at the end of the year.

However, when the end of the year comes, others are getting promoted and you are not.  Others receive large bonuses…you do not.  You’re either broken or angry, but mostly confused.  You begin conjuring up conspiracy theories and may even begin looking for a new job.

While there are a multitude of possible reasons for this conundrum, it may boil down to a basic difference between you and your employer—that difference being the understanding of affirmation.  Your boss may be trying to empower you through affirmation, while you interpret her actions as confirmation.  Although her positive comments were meant to encourage you to excel, your interpretation led you to remain consistent.  To you, your complacency is holding you steady at A+ work, while your boss C’s you differently.

The reality is that individuals are different and, for one to truly impact another in an intended way, there has to be a certain level of understanding.  Sometimes people need to be told, with #nofilter, what they need to do, how they could improve and about their weaknesses.  Others need encouragement and positive words as motivation for reaching their potential.  Some need both.

Here are two models of group therapy, which help illustrate the utility of both approaches.

Person-Centered Therapy involves a self-directed evolution towards an individual’s full potential.  In a group setting, the group members dictate not only who the therapist is, but also control the nature of the session(s) as well as set their own individual and group goals.

The members of the group are responsible for monitoring their own progress and the progress of the group.  The therapist’s role consist of providing an empathetic and trusting environment.  The therapist must remain adaptive to the shifts in the group’s norms, and have the ability to evaluate group and individual progress without being intrusive or judgmental.

Additionally, the therapist must accurately perceive the groups’ meanings and feelings while consistently employing unconditional positive regard.  The Person-Centered approach claims that, through trust and genuineness, a therapist can inevitably improve a client’s self-concept and behavior.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy contends that individual’s belief systems are responsible for emotional consequences.  In theory, a client’s irrational beliefs could be effectively refuted by challenging them rationally, inevitably reducing the conflict.  In a group setting, the therapist takes a lead role in attempting to change the minds of the clients; the therapist can accomplish this without fostering a “warm” relationship with the clients.

Within groups, there is potential for judgments to be made of group members by other members of the group, which may prove of benefit or detriment to the therapeutic experience.  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy holds that humans have the equal potential to be rational or irrational and both preserving and destructive.  Therapists must promote clients to confront their behaviors as well as accept their faults.   Additionally, Rational Emotive Behavior therapists claim that it is possible to assist clients with changing their behaviors as a means to restructuring their way of thinking.  In this light, the therapist must continue to encourage self-discipline as well as self-direction.


The tried and true good cop, bad cop technique works, in part, because it addresses the spectrum of individuals discussed herein.  In this light, leaders, therapists and supervisors are oftentimes able to best serve more individuals when they understand the dynamics and exercise balance.

In this effort, it is necessary to understand how individuals perceive criticism, even constructive criticism.  It is also incumbent for you to understand how your personal attempts at either are perceived.  While an individual may confide in you that they enjoy or need constructive criticism, they may hold a different definition of such than you.

Understanding what triggers or prompts you as an individual towards progression is critical to your individual development but is also telling of how you may elect to treat others.  You cannot always rely on others to direct you, as in some instances they will fail.  Not necessarily because they don’t care, but perhaps because they don’t truly understand you.  Likewise, when you begin to understand how you prefer to receive information, you will also gain perspective regarding how you give it.

Reverting back to the opening scenario, emotional support and encouragement from leaders can be a benefit to the overall performance of those being led.  In this light, the employer hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong.  A clear understanding of goals and expectations, as well as continual evaluation of the progression towards those goals can complement such affirmation.

In many environments, such as in sports and within the workplace, leaders are under a certain amount of internal and external pressures often challenging their own reserve.  Therapists and counselors are typically at an advantage because they are trained and educated on empathy, and should be well-versed concerning dealing with their own pressures as well.

Helping professionals may choose to assist clients’ progress towards goals the clients set themselves.  Another lesson here is that individuals who are not internally motivated towards a goal may present a greater challenge than those who are.  Regardless of your role or environment, in most instances it’s best to ask the tough questions and find a nice way to tell it straight.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Atlas Concepts, LLC.

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