Negative Assumptions are Not Facts

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, September, 2017

Many of my clients are in the habit of anticipating negative outcomes. Sean went to work each day expecting that he would make a critical error and be fired. James presumed that co-workers would be angry if he asked for help, and wasted many hours trying to solve problems by himself. Diane was convinced that she would say one wrong thing at a job interview and not be hired.

The negative assumptions made it difficult for these individuals to take action toward their goals. All experienced low motivation and self-esteem. They made cursory efforts and quickly gave up, locking themselves into a self-defeating cycle.

Sean, James and Diane treated their negative assumptions as fact. I shared a technique to help them develop a more realistic outlook. It is called the Possible, Probable, Unlikely Test. It works like this:

  1. Write down a negative assumption.
  2. Ask yourself, “Is it possible?” If the answer is yes, then ask
  3. “How probable is it?”
  4. If the outcome is likely to happen, ask, “How can I prepare for a better outcome?” If the outcome is unlikely to happen, ask, “What do I need to focus on instead?”

Here is how Diane used this method as a reality check for her concern that she would say one wrong thing during interviews and not get hired.

  1. Is it possible that I could say the wrong thing? Yes, there is a possibility that I could misunderstand a question, or speak before thinking through my answer. It could turn off an employer.
  2. How probable is it? Fifty-fifty. I have been practicing my responses, and am more used to the interview process, so I’m not as nervous. I’ve also read about the wrong way to answer questions, and modified my responses as a result.
  3. How can I prepare for a better outcome? Continue practicing as part of my weekly job search plan; if I’m asked a question that I didn’t anticipate, ask for a minute to think about my answer instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind.

I also taught these clients the “Then What?” technique. This is useful when a person becomes anxious about a possible negative outcome. Think of the worst that can happen, then ask, “What can I plan to do then?”

Diane’s worst case scenario was a wrong response. We brainstormed some possible actions she could take if this happened: I can ask for clarification … I can explain that I feel nervous … I can spend more time practicing in the future.

Using these techniques helped all three of these clients evaluate situations more realistically, and become more confident in their ability to manage them.

Copyright 2017, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching