Have you ever been on the receiving end of a compliment only to find yourself demurring, saying something like, “Thanks, but…” or “Oh, it was nothing!” This practice, devaluing, ignoring, or overlooking something about ourselves, is known in Transactional Analysis as ‘discounting’. In this case we’re minimising something good about ourselves; a positive quality that someone has noticed about us which for one reason or another doesn’t fit into our view of who we are. Minimising also happens with problems or challenges.
We all find ways to minimise ourselves, others, or even the world at large sometimes. Minimising has several levels: “What, that?” we’ll say, ignoring the existence of the problem. “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal,” we follow up, minimising the severity of the issue at hand. “But there’s nothing I can do about it anyway,” we might continue, discounting any options that are available to us. “Well, that’s just the way it is!” we might sum up, minimising our ability to create options and to plan actions.
Hopefully you’re starting to recognise some of the language of minimising. There are also related behaviours that go with these stages. When we ignore a problem, we’re passive, taking no action. When we minimise its severity, we become over-adaptive: we’ll take action but with much muttering and resentment. As we grow increasingly uncomfortable with realising how big the problem is, we might become agitated. And finally when we think we have no ability to deal with the situation, just like a trapped animal we react with an outburst of violence, slapping the papers down on the table or jabbing at someone in a pointed way.
In my case, whenever I find myself in the minimising process I usually belt out the “MINIMISER” song that I developed on my coach training course, sung to the tune of Britney Spears’s “Womaniser.” Minimisers, minimisers, we’re all minimisers, hey! Minimising is a natural part of our mental model of the world: it’s a psychological strategy which allows us to hold on to our picture of ‘the way things are’ even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
To be open to the transformational process of coaching, we need to make room in our lives for change to happen. In order to do this, we need to learn how to cut through the minimising.
The best way to get out of the discounting spiral is to start accounting, to recognise what the problem is, how big it is, and to start problem-solving to design possibilities for change. When you find yourself using minimising language or behaviour, it can be an invitation to ask a question: what am I not seeing? If it helps, you can sing the minimiser song. I usually find it gives me a different perspective on the situation.