A young woman I’ll call Yvette signed up for math class. The first day, Yvette informed me that she can’t do a specific, very basic type of problem. Over the years, others have tried to teach her but she just can’t learn it. It’s impossible.
Now I’m not the brightest instructor in the instructional universe, but that declaration was a pretty clear indication to me that I would fare no better. I, too, would not be able to overcome Yvette’s tremendous barrier. I would not be able to teach her this bit of common knowledge. Others had failed; there was no doubt that I would go down in flames with the rest.
It was suggested to me that Yvette could have oppositional defiance disorder. But an explanation, or even a diagnosis, isn’t a solution, is it? The answer to, “How do I work with that?” was not encouraging.
Since then, I’ve developed a better understanding of Dr. Glasser’s choice theory. Human behaviours that used to puzzle me are not quite as mysterious anymore.
Glasser theorizes that we have five basic needs; one is the need for power. Because of the potential to misunderstand the word “power,” I usually call it a need for power/recognition. Others might refer to it as a need for self-esteem. Regardless of what you call it, we all need to know that we have value.
For some, the power need is a driving force; for others, it’s not so strong. But it’s there, and we take action to try to satisfy it.
Here’s a choice theory explanation of Yvette’s behaviour. She found her power in her inability to learn a simple concept. The best efforts of well-meaning experts and helpers could not possibly overcome Yvette’s special talent—her inability to learn.
You might think that defies common sense! We tend to believe that a person finds value in their positive characteristics: the things they can do rather than the things they can’t.
Why would someone choose to see themselves as special because of what they can’t do?
I think that “special” is the important word here. We take action to satisfy our needs, and at some level, that action is effective. It might not seem effective to the observer, but it may well be effective for the person.
In Yvette’s case, she is able to tell herself and her friends that no one—not the smart people, not the experts—no one is able to teach her.
That’s her specialness. That’s how she gets recognition.
We hear wonderful stories of positive accomplishments that only a few will ever achieve. What if you have a need for recognition, but you are one of the many who will never win awards or get public recognition?
If you have a need for power and recognition that you can’t figure out how to satisfy, what would you do? Might you choose negative ways to satisfy that need? Even if people ridicule you, at least they notice you.
So, how would we work with this situation?
For Yvette, I could try to provide opportunities for her to gain recognition from what she can do. Yvette may answer a question incorrectly, but something in it is likely to be correct. Even if the correct part of her answer is tiny, that’s where I focus. Recognize what is done well; encourage more of that.
This approach is not at all the same as accepting a lack of effort or an incorrect answer. This is about looking for even a small bit of positive behaviour and recognizing it.
Focusing on accomplishments, even tiny ones, can help people such as Yvette get accustomed to finding new ways to satisfy her power need. What do you think of this approach?