Offering sound advice does not seem like a character strength at first, but it involves a lot of courage. People operate within their frame of reference, which also means perceiving the reality within the boundaries of their own biases. It can be challenging to point out seemingly obvious better solutions if the client or friend is not ready to accept it. It can take a bit of courage, risk-taking and leaning into their world to share our message effectively. It also means we need to step out of our comfort zone and out of our worldview sometimes. I can see perspective as a character strength. I think in consultancy or therapy work it is crucial for success.
I am quite a passionate and stubborn individual. Over the years of my social media consultancy, I have discovered a lot of blocks to my ability to offer people good, congruent advice. I am still learning it. Today I will try to list what got in the way for me in the past. Let’s see if you find it helpful.
- Social and economic group. At the age of ten, I moved from a very well developed region to a very poor one. I have experienced my new peers as rude and often quite cruel. However, their reality was so different from mine. I was the daughter of two academics. They had to work in the field in summer instead of coming into the school. Some of those kids would receive severe, cruel, trauma-inducing punishment for bad grades, while my upbringing was reasonably safe. I lived in a clear realisation that my life was different and that I needed to fit in. But I also had to work out the boundaries of that process. Today I use this skill to adjust my language and my conversations to people from various groups of society. It does help to be genuine and accepting of everyone’s background.
- Ethnic and cultural group – my parents had a student exchange with Danish folk universities, so I was able to travel even under the Communist regime. Very early in my life, I have experienced a strong dissonance in people’s behaviours at the table, during travels, in their own homes. It was an eye-opener, and I found it fascinating. Today I sometimes struggle to navigate the modern political correctness because it also comes with a certain level of ignorance around the cultural heritage. Especially in Brexit years, we have experienced a strong need for language around cultural identity. Not talking about our culture does not mean we respect it. Talking about it openly and respectfully proves that we can handle each other’s differences. I think this is something we are now learning here in the UK.
- Coming from the place of our origin – this is almost the opposite of the previous point. When I moved to Hungary at the age of 18, I was curious about new cultures, but not careful about my very own biases. Biases are there for a reason, but they can be so limiting. We all need to belong to a group, to look at the world from our place of origin, clinging on to it as something that defines everything we do. I would learn about Hungarian culture, cuisine, poetry, history of language and the country through the lens of being Polish. It’s a binary way of operating, and it leads to intolerance. It is also an easy trap. Both Poland and Hungary we predominantly racist at the time. Living in Budapest was easy, but I have noticed a lot of negativity around other nations. Making friends with international students slowly allowed me to open up my perspective, peel off racist expressions from my vocabulary and move beyond my own need to belong. It’s a process, but to notice my biases was probably the most crucial part of it.
- Professional slang. As I grew up and started working in the software industry and business, my world opened up to business class travels and working hours spent with similarly minded people. I entered the world of acronyms and databases. I then moved into the world of social media and quickly joined a smaller group and later masses of people following trends. I joined the second wave of bloggers (2004), so I saw many leading social networks to enter our lives. I was excited and positive about them all. Later I worked for a small startup agency educating charities on social media. Only to realise that the topic of social media was still new. I have recognized my little geeky bias then. It takes that one moment when you walk into the room and start training but see that people do not understand a word of what you are saying. An excellent communicator knows it looks terrible on them, not on the audience. So I had to stop, get outside of my tech bubble and learn to speak the human language again. So I stopped talking about effective blogger engagement outreach. I replaced it with writing genuine and respectful emails to trusted bloggers. Luckily I did this way earlier than the set up of WhatTheFuckIsMySocialMediaStrategy.com. By the time late Millenials joined this new world, it wasn’t so unique anymore. I learned to run mum tests on everything I do (if you can explain it to your mum, it is good). I learned to question what I say and how I am saying it.
- My parent bubble. This one is relatively simple: assuming that I know better than my son. Feeling that I have the right not to treat him as equal, nor as someone who might be right. When, in fact, he grew up in this reality and knew the world so much better than I do. So as soon as I have noticed his brilliant abilities to navigate the areas that are important today: change, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, co-production and many more – I stood aside, watched and started learning. I developed a new language of mutual agreements and congruent admitting to points where we miss each other. This way, my perspective is now enriched by his generation, and all the other ones are coming after him.
- Binary gender bubble. This one is big for me because I suffered greatly as a woman in the tech industry. Mind you, not as much as many of my female friends. I grew up with boys. I was hanging out with my older brother’s gang, which boosted my little girl’s ego into something, which later became very useful in my adult life. I learned to stand my ground. I learned to be opinionated even if men did not wish to hear my thoughts or deemed them useless by default. It frequently gained me the label of “annoying”, “self-centred”, “200% of herself” but worked in getting me the status men would have served by default. Later, when I lived in a tiny town and had my own company that I realised the scale of my problem. When a mum at school told me: “you should be happy, your husband lets you run your company in the first place”. It was that one sentence that woke me up to the reality of women around me. Here in Bristol during my therapy studies, I finally understood that our gender identity is not binary, but the rules of our society form it nonetheless. And those rules do not place people who are not men in any desirable places. Allowing for a spectrum of genders also lets go of the strong position of men in society. But just as hard as it was for me to realise my place in society, it is hard for many men to recognize the stereotypes they are enforcing. So it’s crucial to find ways of communicating with kindness and care. I am still learning that.
- Mental abilities bubble. This used to be a clear cut for me as well. I used to think that some people are healthy and others have mental health illnesses or challenges. Until I opened our Minecraft Club. It was then that I have realised that children with seemingly substantial difficulties like the autistic spectrum are wonderfully skilled in areas that are my weakness. And that’s when I started noticing the real courage, kindness and uniqueness of all of us. Again I moved from us and them distinction into all of us and each of us uniquely. We all have special needs (and skills) and we all have similar needs too: to be respected, accepted and loved.
- Resilience bubble. We tend to grow up, aiming to be strong. However, life can throw so much at us that no matter how resilient we are, it might just ruin all our defences. It had happened to me at the time when I was quite happy and did not expect everything around me to fall apart. I was always a very resilient and self-efficient person, but sometimes we need to learn to admit the defeat and ask for help. We are social creatures. We are responsible for each other, and it’s ok not to be ok sometimes.
This list is shorter, but I found it useful to explore each point in more detail. I am sure there is more. However, the areas mentioned above are essential to me. They come up as challenges in all my paid and voluntary work too. What is vital for you?