In my research and practice, the role of dissatisfaction is very intriguing. People frequently describe a slow building of dissatisfaction over time or a spike triggered by a particular event – to a level which is sufficient to act as an energiser for change.
In other words, there seems to be a need to be sufficiently dissatisfied with their current situation before they can really let go of the past / present and be able to think openly about a different future.
Interestingly, as individuals are initially focused on this ‘dissatisfaction’, they also find it much easier to describe what they don’t want or what is missing as opposed to what they do want. I suggest that feelings associated with becoming more dissatisfied might skew their cognitions and draw attention towards the negative aspects of their current work situation. In Psychology literature, the concept of confirmation bias is well established – where individuals look for or interpret events in a ways that support their already held assumptions or prejudices.
Working through the negative / away from feelings seems to be particularly relevant in forced change situations – such as being made redundant or unfair dismissal. There is often a real need to work through their significant dissatisfaction, fears and confidence fully before being able to look forward in a resourceful and open-minded way.
It is also quite common for individuals to come to coaching wanting to make a change but, having had the opportunity to really work through their dissatisfaction, they make a conscious and informed choice not to make the change. By making sense of their dissatisfaction, they feel less dissatisfied.
But, don’t be tempted to rush past the dissatisfaction
Some forms of coaching and several coaching models emphasise defining a goal / solution / outcome very early in the coaching process. I suggest, however, that pausing to really understand the nature of the dissatisfaction and what it is signposting is really valuable to the individual. It can give real insight about the present and their future position and what matters to them. An experienced coach can respectfully support and challenge an individual as they own their dissatisfaction and what it is truly telling them.