“Probably dead”: On optimism & bracketing assumptions

We’ve all been there: You’ve got a meeting. You’re ready. It’s time. Nobody’s showing up. 

You give it a few minutes (as someone who’s married into a Mexican family I’m the first to appreciate that people’s relationship with “being on time” can… evolve), but after some time it’s clear that they’re most likely not going to show up. 

Now where does your mind go? 

“Probably something that I said last time we spoke that scared them off”
“Something more important than our meeting must have come up…”
“How disrespectful! They should really have cancelled.”
“I knew that eventually they’d realise I’m a fraud!”
Or perhaps
“Must have been something serious and unexpected. I hope they’re okay… ”

I’m an optimist – in the Seligmannian “explanatory style” meaning of the term. That means that when something negative happens (like someone standing me up), I assume the best, i.e. that it’s not about me, it’s not always like that, and that it’s specific to a particular context rather than universal. 

So my go-to, very optimistic explanation for when a client goes MIA is: 

“They’ve probably died, or had a serious accident.”

I even have a client admin folder I labelled “probably dead”, which to me is an umbrella term for “gone quiet for whatever reason, which I choose not to beat myself up about.”

I do take some time to consider whether it may have been something I said or did that could have sparked such behaviour, and of course I hold my “very optimistic” assumption very lightly in the face of not-knowing and don’t actually believe that they’re in fact dead. But it helps with the heaviness of the kind of self-doubt that plagues so many people. 

So whenever I’m being left waiting, I usually adopt that optimistic stance and drop them a message along the lines of “Hey, Are you okay? We were scheduled for […]. I hope you just forgot/overslept/etc and nothing serious happened…”

It assumes the best in people. And I like living that way. 

It also often brings the best out in people when you relate to their best selves. 

Now I’m writing this today because I did get stood up a few months ago, and I did write them such a note. I did ask myself whether they might not have been happy with the coaching but unwilling to tell me directly, but this morning I heard back from the client, who tild.me they had been in a serious accident, spent some time in a coma, and apologised for disappearing, and looking forward to reconnecting.

While I choked for a short and dark moment on the fact that my “optimistic” assumption had come so close to the reality, I’m so glad that I was able to bracket my assumptions at the time and hold them lightly as not to spend so much energy wondering, judging, or doubting myself, until I found out what had actually happened. 

With Love

New content: Coaching Uncaged Season 15 out now

Coaching Uncaged by Animas is back!! 

After a short hiatus we’re back with Season 15, during which I’ll be exploring the underlying theoretical foundations and a range of different perspectives on coaching practice with high level thought leaders from our industry. 

Following his excellent guest lecture as part of my module at Cambridge University’s new Coaching Masters, we asked Dr. Laurence Barrett whether he’d offer us some more of his time to dive into his Jungian Perspective on coaching. And so we talked about the layers of the unconscious, types and archetypes, symbolism, the influence of our heritage, coaching as re-telling our story, working with the “shadow”, and Jung’s differences with Freud. A more than fascinating conversation which I highly recommend you tuning into. 

You can watch the episode here, or listen to it on the Animas website and all major podcasting platforms.

Next event: Psychoanalytic Coaching with David Rothauser


Our guest in the Lab in December is New York based executive coach and Psychoanalyst David Rothauser. David and I recently(-ish) talked for an hour on the Coaching Uncaged podcast about the influence of modern psychoanalysis on his coaching, and I’m thrilled that we get to see his approach in action with a client in this Lab. David’s been around the block several times in a whole range of different faculties, and I have no doubt this will be an inspiring session and debrief! I hope you can join us.

More info and tickets via www.GoCoachingLab.com/vault/next-lab/