Being unreasonable: How to have difficult conversations and take bold action

Being unreasonable: How to have difficult conversations and take bold action

When asked to do something we consider unreasonable, we naturally resist. In this article, Ontological Coach, Thrive Master Coach and facilitator Louise Smallwood addresses the common emotions or moods that arise when someone makes what we consider to be ‘an unreasonable request’ of us and shares effective methods that enable us to move forward with grace.


Apr 04, 2022

5 mins read

Have you ever wondered what gets in the way of your ability to have difficult conversations and take bold actions? And what stops you from taking the steps that could make the most significant difference to you and the results you are achieving in life? In this article, I address the common emotions or moods that arise when someone makes what we consider to be ‘an unreasonable request’ of us and offer some effective methods that enable us to move forward with grace.

When asked to do something we consider unreasonable, we naturally resist. We tend to say no. That’s because we regard anything that makes us feel uncomfortable as unreasonable. So, often we’re not saying no because the request made of us was unreasonable; we’re saying no because it makes us uncomfortable

Consider the word ‘unreasonable’. What do you think of when you hear it? There are a number of dictionary definitions of unreasonable, the most common being:

1: Exceeding the bounds of reason or moderation.

2: Not fair.

Unreasonable is not a word I have always particularly liked. Let me explain why. My husband John is the Master Coach and Coach Principal of the Engenesis Coach Academy. As a fellow coach, he challenges and encourages me every day. However, more than anyone else in my life, he challenges me to do things far beyond what I think is reasonable. For example, John and I have jointly facilitated a series of leadership and coaching programs over the years. Typically, John would lead the workshops, and I would support him as his co-facilitator. This partnership arrangement has always worked well for all concerned.

One day, after completing a workshop, John looked at me and said with a smile, “I want you to lead the next session.” I reacted immediately, “What!? No way!” The words spilled out of my mouth, especially as it was not a request; it was a statement. Realising my discomfort, John reframed the statement as a request, “Would you consider leading the next workshop?” 

At that moment, I felt extremely confronted. John’s request had put me on the spot, and I became anxious. Everything was comfortable, familiar and running well, and I feared this change would disrupt the status quo. Despite knowing this was an incredible opportunity to further develop my mastery of facilitation skills, fear continued to cause me to resist. 

Unreasonableness is in the eye of the beholder

I wholeheartedly believed that John's request of me 'exceeded the bounds of reason' and was 'not fair'. But who decides what is reasonable or acceptable? Who decides what is fair? For each of us, the answer may be different. Some could consider it perfectly reasonable to ask their neighbour to borrow their car. For others, simply asking their neighbour if they could borrow a cup of sugar may be regarded as unreasonable. Some may even baulk at knocking on their neighbour's door. We all have an internal dialogue around what is reasonable and what isn’t. For each of us, unreasonable has a slightly different connotation. There is no right or wrong way to respond to it.

So what stops us from being unreasonable with others or ourselves? As you look for an answer, notice how your perception of unreasonableness may have prevented you from fulfilling important endeavours in the past. Given we all have different perceptions of what is and isn’t unreasonable, perhaps the meaning is subjective. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say the word unreasonable means ‘for no particular reason’. In other words, ‘just because’. In that case, I invite you to consider that what stops us is not that something is unreasonable, but that it is uncomfortable.  

For me, John's request that I lead the workshop felt unreasonable. But in reality, it made me uncomfortable. I suddenly felt vulnerable and exposed, and I was anxious that I would not be good enough. In hindsight, I realise that my discomfort arose from past experiences presenting to groups of people that hadn't gone as well as I had hoped. I was afraid of history repeating itself, which made me unbearably uncomfortable.

Learning to be with anxiety, fear and vulnerability 

Anxiety, fear and vulnerability are real. Trying to avoid these moods as though they are ‘bad’ compounds the feeling of discomfort even more. To be human is to experience these Moods. They are not bad; on the contrary, they are valuable and natural. In the Being Framework™, we look at how anxiety, fear and vulnerability can impact our ability to take action or cause us to procrastinate. Through effective coaching, we can develop our capacity to be with these Moods and move forward with grace, despite the presence of fear and anxiety, for instance.

In the end, I chose to be vulnerable, take the step forward and lead the workshop. I was still anxious in the lead-up, and while the experience was uncomfortable, it was also hugely fulfilling. I had experienced fear and anxiety and stepped forward anyway! The following week came, and again I chose to be courageous and lead the workshop, and later still, another. As my confidence grew, I became increasingly comfortable with the discomfort.

While I still experience fear and anxiety at times, I know these Moods are a natural part of being human. Importantly, I have learned to be with them rather than let them hold me back. Furthermore, sometimes I choose to say no to uncomfortable requests, and that's okay. 

Being aware of the difference between unreasonable and uncomfortable and learning to be with the discomfort makes a significant difference in fulfilling what is important to you in life. Having someone who sees more potential in you than you know you possess, someone who will challenge you and hold you to account in uncomfortable situations, especially when you push back, is extremely beneficial. 

As a Facilitator of the Thrive Coach Training Program, I am privileged to support new and existing coaches to take an ontological approach towards coaching. Here we provide a safe space to grow and develop the ability to be with the uncomfortable and support our clients when they are confronted in their lives. By being with the discomfort, we can break through to new levels of results in our own lives and make a positive difference to others.


Louise Smallwood
Louise Smallwood

About The Author

Unquestionably, Louise loves people, is passionate about life, and loves community. In particular, she adores her family and spending time together with them. Having worked in Sales and Marketing in various industries for some 15 years, Louise was first introduced to ontology in 1998, which sparked her deep interest in exploring who we are being, how we relate to reality, and in turn, how that impacts the results we get in our lives. Over a decade ago Louise started her coaching journey, developing her coaching skills, utilising various psychometric tools and being trained across complementary coaching methodologies. Louise now works as a full-time coach and is committed to supporting leaders develop highly effective teams through ontological coaching, and interrupting anything that disempowers them. As an accredited Thrive Coach Trainer, Louise facilitates and leads Thrive Coach Training Programs, supporting, encouraging and developing a new generation of coaches. Louise admits that she loves when she gets to work alongside and partner with her husband John in facilitating training workshops with him. In her free time, Louise also loves to exercise, enjoys watching and supporting her local rugby league team, watching MotoGP, and riding her own Ducati motorcycle with John and their friends. Though without a doubt Louise’s favourite part of her week is Sunday night church.

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