Five Ways to Help a Client Face Loss

by Frederick Way

As mediators, we talk to people who are confronting the prospect of losing frequently.

They may be contemplating losing a court case, or not getting a job. More commonly, they are having to take stock of not getting everything that they thought they would get (or were entitled to) and frequently they are having to give up things that they don’t want to, in order to reach an agreement.

This can be financial items like money or property, but it can also be intangible things such as loss of status. Even the prospect of giving up litigation and the intensity of being involved in a case has been something that clients have been concerned about.

We all know from our own experience how difficult loss is. It can be horrible and there is a tendency in these situations to sympathise with or even pity the “loser”. However,  we need to embrace loss and losing as a natural part of life and help clients to work through the experience.

My five tips for working with a client who is facing loss are the following:

1. Listen and Understand Why it Matters to Them

As mediators, we’re trained to talk to parties about their needs and drivers, getting to the root of understanding why they hold a position.

We also are non-judgemental about what those needs are. This doesn’t change just because someone has lost. They still have interests connected with the thing that they are giving up and their thoughts around the loss are unique to them. We need to identify what those needs are in order to allow a person to move forward.

To give an example, loss of status is a common concern when someone loses a senior job. If you are not in a position of being open enough and actively listening to a person so that they feel they can share that with you, you will never be able to work through this concern with them. Listening non-judgementally matters.

2Work Through the Loss Objectively and Clearly

Frequently, when people lose, especially when it is unexpected, they do not actually understand fully the practicalities of what the loss means and will make assumptions that can be unhelpful.

For example, someone who is giving up a property may not have heard that the other side doesn’t want immediate possession, or they may assume that they are going to be left with nothing financially.

These sorts of misunderstandings make things much harder for someone to process. It is important therefore to talk through practically the implications of what something means and how it will actually occur.

This can involve going through the steps of how a buyer would be found; move out dates; how and when proceeds would be divided. The more information that people have and can understand a process to the loss, the easier it is to deal with.

3. Help Avoid Catastrophising

It is human behaviour to catastrophise a loss, making it seem worse than it is and leading to a chain of negative thinking.

So, for example, someone takes not getting a job to mean not being able to pursue that career, which means they won’t be a success, which means that they will not be happy.

This is catastrophising the loss and making it worse than it is. Loss is not a chain reaction and there is normally no reason that one loss will lead to another.

It can be helpful to encourage people to articulate their fears and work through the loss logically, enabling them to see that the loss does not have to have the impact that they foresee. There is no reason and it is unlikely that someone who is passionate about a career will not be able to pursue it because they don’t get a single job. Work through with them the logic of what they are thinking and help to put the loss into appropriate but not exaggerated proportion.

4. Work to Position the Loss as a Moment in Time

No matter how upsetting a loss is, it is normally a moment in time and it will pass like other moments good and bad.

The worst moment of the loss is the bottom point on the chart, but people have the ability to rise above and continue. Where people don’t get over losses, it is because they tend to wallow in the experience of loss. They drive past their old home or follow what their old company is doing in the news. They read over the judgement again and again.

Instead, if you can frame it as a moment in the past (or the soon to be past, for an upcoming loss), it is easier to deal with and move on.

5. Look at Other Paths to Reach the Party’s Goals

When we lose, we often think about overturning the result.

We want the votes recounted or a decision reversed.

In mediations, parties will often state that they will just appeal if they lose a case in court.

However, when a decision has been made it can be extremely difficult to overturn it and parties who look to do this are often coming from a position of weakness.

What works better is to look at why it is that a party wanted something and to look at alternative routes of satisfying that goal. So, if someone was passed over for a promotion, what was it about the job that they wanted or needed and what else can they do to satisfy that in another way.

If it was more responsibility, a salary uplift and a better job title, what other options are there to pursue that and how can they satisfy those interests. If a client is giving up a home they loved, how can they move to a position of owning and loving a new property?

When you start to look at alternative routes and build plans for that, the party is taking control of the situation and is no longer dependent on the person or situation that has created the loss to make them happy. This enables a party to move on and be happier.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it is trite to say that a loss is just your perspective on it. Losses are real and they have consequences.

However, they also need to be kept in proportion and people need to be able to be given opportunities to work through them and get ownership of their future.

A well-worked through loss can actually be an opportunity. It is also something that can have ownership and direction. And just sometimes, that owned opportunity is actually more exciting than the original thing…

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