“Hope is the best medicine.” One of my clients said to me last week…
Just days before I was lecturing at the University of Technology, Sydney, and explaining the importance of hope to the postgraduate students. I recalled a story of a client I had worked with a few years earlier. This client will of course remain confidential and all redeeming features will be substantially changed.
I was working with this client for the purpose of mediation. It was a challenging case. One of the ones I have worked on where the brief simply is: “We have tried everything. There is nothing that can be done, but can you try anyway?”
The organisation had given up hope. My first task was to convince the organisation that there was hope – that I had helped people in similar situations before.
As you can imagine when I meet the people involved in these kind of cases, they are more often than not, highly distraught. They have often suffered for years, embroiled in high-level conflicts that just won’t go away. No amount of trying – including seeking the help of professionals, lodging claims, and so on, seems to help. They have often given up hope.
In this particular case, I was working with a person who had unsuccessfully lodged a Workers’ Compensation Claim. Let’s call her Jane.
Jane was convinced that she had a good case despite the unsuccessful claim so she initiated litigation against the organisation. The litigation was ongoing while I worked with her (and the other parties) over a few months.
One day I turned up at Jane’s office and she told me that there was no point in the mediation process. I enquired as to why she felt this way.
Jane told me that her solicitor had told her there was no point in mediating, that things would never change in the organisation, and that the people involved in the conflict would never change.
Jane’s solicitor had in effect said there was no hope.
I was shocked to hear this advice. I knew that Jane had no chance of getting another job of the same calibre in Australia, due to the size of her industry. She was an expert. Additionally, Jane was unable to leave Australia due to family commitments. The effect of this advice on Jane was huge.
Now one thing I have not yet mentioned is that Jane was very depressed at the time of our conversation. She was seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist and had previously had suicidal ideation. Jane also had a limited social support network. This coupled with other characteristics placed her at high risk of suicide. Hence I was shocked to hear of her solicitors’ comments.
Jane could have heard this solicitor’s advice as “You have no hope of solving this problem. You have no chance of finding work elsewhere. Your long, hard-work-filled, career is over. Leave the organisation and change careers.”
This kind of advice is devastating for any person who’s identity rests on their work and who has prided themselves their whole lives on their long and successful career.
While it was obviously not the solicitors’ intention to cause Jane more distress their advice certainly did and it almost ended the mediation process.
I quickly set about shifting Jane’s perception of the situation and her hopes for the future. I told her stories of other similar cases that had been resolved. I helped her to identify and focus on the positive steps that had been taken so far, and helped her to focus on the outcome she desired.
Mediation was Successful
Luckily I was able to convince Jane to continue with the mediation process. Despite the solicitor’s advice, the mediation process was successful. Jane remains at their job and the situation resolved. In fact the last time I saw Jane she was sharing a laugh with one of the people she mediated with.
What I know is that “Hope is the best medicine.” Hope is one of the most powerful attitudes, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and motivators.
When there is nothing left, hope can keep us going. It is vital to human beings. Hope keeps many people alive. It gets people out of bed in the morning. Hope keeps us going in the face of severe adversity. Even when we feel we have nothing left.
The great thing is that hope can often prelude positive outcomes. In my work as a mediator I use hope everyday to encourage organisations to work with people they have given up on, and to encourage people who have given up on organisations, professionals, and the system, to give them a chance. Much more often than not, hope works!
Why does Hope Work?
Charles Snyder, a renowned psychologist, and one of the pioneers of positive psychology, introduced hope theory in 1991 (Snyder, 1994). According to Hope Theory, hope is associated with goal-directed thinking. Once a person has a goal in sight, they will develop strategies to achieve their goals. They will also find the necessary motivation to expend the effort to achieve their goals. People with hope are therefore more likely to achieve their goals (Ciarrochi, Heaven & Davies, 2007). Hopeful people are also happier and believe they will be successful in obtaining their goals in the future (Chang and DeSimone, 2001).
4 Ways to Encourage Hope in Others:
1) Tell people stories about people in similar situations who have overcome hardship. People love stories and they particularly like stories with positive, happy conclusions. (Just ask Hollywood!)
2) Explain to people the importance of hope and how hope can help them to keep going even when things are tough. Just by keeping going – staying in the race, we increase our chances of things working out for us.
3) Help people identify and focus on the positive steps that have been taken so far or the positive aspects of the situation.
4) Explain to people that focusing on what we want in life, can in fact create the life we want! It’s that simple.
I would love to hear from you. How has hope changed your life or the lives of those around you?
Ciarrochi, J., Heaven, P. and Davies, F. (2007) The impact of hope, self-esteem, and attributional style on adolescents’ school grades and emotional well-being: A longitudinal study. Journal of Research in Personality. No. 41, pp. 1161-1178.
Chang, E. and De Simone, S. (2001) The Influence of Hope on Appraisals, Coping and Dysphoria: A test of hope theory. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 117-129.
Snyder, C.R. (1994) The Psychology of Hope: You can get there from here. New York, Simon and Schuster.