Our hot seat colleague (we’ll call her Mindy) had asked about how to “get out there” more—be more visible in her community. Mindy had a truly useful service. She wanted more people to know about it, and build her business as well. The group had great suggestions about speaking…blogging…not just topics, but how to reach a tribe who’d get her genius and support her. Yay!!!
I was eager to throw my ideas out, too…but something made me pause. I realized that with each new idea, Mindy’s energy was dropping lower and lower. Almost like a boxer being punched in a ring—valiantly standing as long as she could, each idea landed on Mindy as if it were a blow, rather than the support intended.
And when one person in the group realized her idea hadn’t quite landed, others lined up to contribute their own great advice. And, of course, Mindy did her best to stand and take in this input, too…even as her ability to absorb it was getting exhausted.
You see: the problem wasn’t that Mindy hadn’t heard any of these ideas. There were some added nuances, of course. But it was pretty much all ideas that Mindy had heard before, but couldn’t bring herself to do.
Not for any “logical” reason. Logically, the advice summed up to talking to people and writing about work Mindy loved; she’d done all the elements of that. But actually implementing the package, in Mindy’s real-world experience, just felt heavy—even scary. So no matter how generously intended and theoretically useful the advice was, it was only reminding Mindy of past failures to implement similar advice.
No wonder Mindy’s energy was plummeting. In a way, that mastermind forum was a ritual of abuse.
Abuse?!!! That’s a rather extreme assertion. Yet, a forensic psychologist who specializes in the area gave me the best definition of abuse I’ve even heard: “eroding the soul of another.” And Mindy’s soul energy was being eroded, even despite the group’s intention to help. When kind-hearted people advise us about what we ought to be able to do--but struggle with--it actives shame, not resourcefulness.
And you know what? Because we pretend we’re logical beings (but aren’t), this abuse happens a lot more than we realize.
So what’s a remedy?
Well, logically, how about admitting that we don’t always have access to strictly rational thought, and make it ok to say that “uh, honestly, I’ve heard ideas like this before, and I know I ought to be able to apply them, but I can’t. Can you help me with that?” Maybe not everyplace, but at least among trusted advisors. If nothing else, that would stop inadvertent demoralization of people we’re intending to support.
When I’ve been in situations like Mindy’s, it felt like moral failure to me…that I was somehow spineless or deficit in some way that couldn’t be remedied. If a few people in the group could have shared about the struggle they had to apply these or similar ideas, that would have at least normalize the situation…making it possible to find encouragement, rather than attack, in the dialog.
In the meantime, if you find yourself at the receiving end of a barrage of advice—or wanting to participate in one—make sure the right problem’s being solved. Is this new information to the recipient?
If they’ve heard similar ideas, but have struggled to act on them, explore that struggle, not more ideas. Just piling more on is abusive!