Tonight I had a chance exchange on social media DMs. Someone (a medical professional, saving lives in our amazing NHS every day) was “discounting”. By this I mean they were deflecting gratitude and praise, reflecting it back on me … but I suspect it’s a common habit and they reflect and deflect as a default setting. They said I was being kind when I expressed gratitude for their efforts with keeping people healthy. That phrase didn’t sit right with me.
Was it “being kind” … or is it doing what I am here to do? ot purely being a coach, or a leadership consultant, but by being a decent human, surely? Actually, all I was doing was telling the truth.
“Discounting” is such a scourge. Self-deprecatory humour is part of the British psyche – we don’t like to blow our own trumpet and are encouraged to look down on those who do. And yet, we are also encouraged to sell our services as a small business. When you ARE that business and those services, it means you have to sell yourself ever day.
In my experience, when people show leadership, we reward and seek to undermine them in equal measure. That is particularly true, when that is in public in the social media circus, showing leadership means the same as putting your head above the proverbial parapet. By doing so, anyone is seen as fair game, open to justified vitriol.
What happened to “being kind”?
“Being kind” is sometimes seen as code for being mealymouthed, going through the motions of being insincerely generous. If not that, then it can be code for “I appreciate you mean well but I can’t be seen to agree with your words”. I suspect this was the case tonight. Being on social media can mean people have a target on their backs for having the temerity to have an opinion. “Keyboard warriors” are everywhere online these days.
Just imagine having to watch your every word and action and emoji, for fear of the likely criticism. I remember that, having been a bullying victim for years at secondary school. It’s not fun.
What should a coach do?
What should a coach do, in this sort of situation? We are taught to let the client lead, but when someone is not a client (and you’re not keen to look like you’re selling AT anyone … that takes us right back to the 3rd paragraph above – it’s not a good luck) what do we do?
Do we offer suggestions, in the hope they won’t be taken as unsolicited advice?
Do we offer supportive words, but really all we’re offering is platitudes?
Or do we offer an observation, which may help a bit of reflection but which doesn’t amount to an open bit of “work”? I went for the last option.
Coaching isn’t “kindness”
This is important – coaching isn’t about kindness. It’s about being supportive, listening to your coachee and helping them to find the answers they seek, through effective questioning and challenge. Obviously, we don’t seek to be UNkind, but it’s not about the bland unquestioning generosity of spirit that “kind” implies. Perhaps that is where the issue lies, for me. I am inferring a meaning that the other person in the DMs may not have meant. They may have meant “unconditionally positive”, or “supportive” or even “nurturing”. However, my professional discipline took over and I confirmed I was not “being kind” but I was saying it how I saw it. And that’s about – and on – me.
Coaching should never be about the coach. Although I am not in a coaching relationship with the other person in the DMs, and it is unlikely I will be, there is still something wrong with my approach. I am inferring, I am projecting my own meaning onto theirs. Unintentionally, I am discounting too, aren’t I?
“Physician, heal thyself”
There’s lots of fodder for reflection in this small exchange. Indeed, that is what I will be doing tonight – reflecting. I will let their words sit with me. I will reflect on their impact and reflect on what that is about for me. And then I will “allow it” as my daughter says so often – I will go along with the expressed gratitude and appreciate that for what it was, a genuine expression of gratitude, with no angle.
So the next time someone says you’re “being kind”, please don’t put an imagined and unwelcome “just” before it. Accept the gratitude and positivity. And keep being kind. Always. It’s the best medicine for a lot of ills.
If this blog triggers some thoughts for you, and you’d like to discuss them, please do get in touch. I would love to discuss your thoughts and what it all means for your leadership journey.