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Frustrated they won’t take your advice? Take ours instead.

Ever been asked for advice? Of course you have. Happens a lot. Ever had someone not take it because they say it won’t work, or worse, “take” your advice, not actually follow what you said, and then proudly proclaim that you were wrong and responsible for their failure?

Right, so today I’m not really writing on retirement plans as much as I am life skills as a business owner and human. Read on at your own peril.

In my line of work, there’s a lot of advice dispensing that goes on. There are also a lot of questions about why some employee doesn’t choose to save for retirement and continues to do things that sabotage their ability to retire. But, those who ask fail to recognize one very important fact. Let me explain.

I was sitting with a participant who wanted to “get on track” financially. We were going through her budget, line by line, trying to find money to put towards paying down her $15,000 of credit card debt.  Everything I suggested was met with a “No, no, I have to have that./I can’t cut that.” We had reached the end and she said, “See, your budgeting system doesn’t work. I tried it. I told you this wouldn’t work.”

She certainly had told me. I certainly hadn’t been listening.

My mom always talks about that horse that you lead to water and you shove his face in it and you yell, “DRIIIIIIINK!”  Well, here’s what I’ve come to realize about that horse:

He likes drama.

There’s an interesting dynamic described by the Karpman Drama Triangle.

The characters include: the persecutor, the victim, and the rescuer. The point of the game is to rotate the triangle.

  • Complainer points out how they’re a victim of persecutor.
  • The rescuer comes to help but is met with “Yes-but” resistance by the victim.
  • The triangle rotates in the game: The rescuer is now the New Victim and the victim is now their Persecutor, all the while validating their former victim status. And the game continues…

I’ve come to realize, whether it’s a corporate client or an employee, Change Is Hard. The Drama Game is easy.

It was much easier for her to hand my “rescue” back and pass off her role as victim to me. After all, she’s wrong; what I told her has worked for hundreds of employees I’ve taught over 15 years. Would I choose to feel persecuted and allow her to feel validated in her plight?

It takes a lot to admit that you’re a co-creator in your situation and that you’re not as helpless as you think. Much like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, sometimes we already have our red shoes on and it’s a matter of finding the right challenge (read: not persecutor) to grow and the right coach (read: not rescuer) to set us on the right path. That’s the positive version of the triangle.

Sometimes clients or customers or friends are ready to be coached and sometimes they’re just trying to pull you in the game. In the case of my employee meeting, I was at fault. I had assumed she was looking for a prescription for her malady; I hadn’t explored her desire to change enough. She was actually looking for validation of her victim status and she made sure to find it. In reality she wanted someone else (her fiancé) to pay off her debt!

So, she was right. There was no money in her budget to support change.

Lesson learned: take caution with advice – make sure you don’t have a Drama Horse on your hands and don’t be in love with being a Rescuer!


Courtenay Shipley has a diverse background in the retirement plan industry providing a unique foundation for her clients in the areas of fiduciary responsibility, investment analysis, and participant education. During her career she has provided institutional investment consulting to qualified retirement plans, developed business strategy for a boutique third party administrator and recordkeeper, conducted over 9,000 education meetings to groups and individual employees, and served the nonprofit market.  She is the founder of Retirement Planology and a facilitator of several Her Corner groups. You can view her profile HERE.

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