Assessing other people

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When meeting new people, we tend to ask a common question. "So, what do you do?"

It’s an awkward question for a psychotherapist. Because you have to either lie or confess that you’re a psychotherapist.

Some people become massively interested. But others visibly back away. They fear that they are under your "expert" gaze, analysing their every move.

I can barely blame them. There is an established strand of therapy that depends on analysis, assessment, diagnosis.

I was trained in that paradigm too.

I recall a training exercise that had us work with a fellow student as their "therapist".

Our job was to make assessments about which psychological category to put them in.

I learned two things from this exercise. Neither was about how to be better at assessing other people.

The first is that I was terrible at making these assessments. So too was everybody else. We all got it hopelessly wrong. Not surprising when you think about it. None of us had any skills in telepathy.

The second thing I learned – inadvertently – is that the way we knew we had got it wrong was by asking the person we were assessing.

The conversation went something like this.

"I have you in this category? Am I right?"

"No. I’m in this one."

"Aaaghh I was going to say that!"

The aim was to help us become better at assessing others. But why even try when we can just ask the person we are working with.

Therapists and coaches who rely on assessments are guessing. And guessing badly. The client has the answer. Lean in.

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