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At a refugee assistance program where I was volunteering, the social worker was trying to convince one of the clients to join the yoga class.
She said it would be fun.
She explained the health benefits.
She told him it would help him relieve stress.
Still not convinced.
This was surprising, since he was a very pleasant young man who enthusiastically participated in all the other activities.
He could see how disappointed the social worker was, so he finally confided,
“I want to try yoga. I just don’t want anyone to see my ankle.”That never would’ve occurred to me, but many of the clients were quite conservative, and I thought she did a good job explaining that he could wear his regular street clothes and could stay in the back where no one else would look at him.
He thought about this for a moment.
“You mean, they wouldn’t think I’m a criminal?”
He lifted up his pant leg and showed her the source of his concern: an electronic tracking bracelet he had to wear while waiting for his asylum hearing.
She reminded him that all of the clients were refugees. It wasn’t uncommon to wear a tracking device, and many people had been imprisoned in their home countries. No one would think any less of him if they happened to see the bracelet, but he could still stay in the back if that made him feel more comfortable.
Reassured by this, the young man cheerfully headed off to the yoga class.
Overall, I thought the social worker handled the situation well. But I also realized the confusion could have been resolved much more quickly if she’d started by asking him why he was reluctant to go.
In the years since then, I’ve noticed many other incidents of someone offering a solution without understanding the real issue.
I've also done this myself on more than one occasion, giving a lengthy explanation without realizing the students were confused about a totally different part of the lesson.
Sometimes, it really does pay to ask!
All You Need is Toast