Offering good advice does not seem like a character strength at first, but it actually involves a lot of courage. People operate within their own frame of reference which also means perceiving the reality within the boundaries of their own biases. It can be really difficult 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 own worldview sometimes. I can see perspective as a character strength and I think especially in consultancy or therapy work it is crucial for success.
I am quite a passionate and stubborn individual so over the years of my social media consultancy I have discovered a lot of blocks to my own ability to offer people good advice. I am still learning it and so 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 economical group – as a little girl I moved from a very well developed part of Poland to the Ukrainian border where my peers would come across as rude (the three magic words – please, thank you and sorry – did not operate in daily language), uneducated and often quite cruel. Some of my peers had to work in the field in summer instead of coming into the school. Others would receive severe, cruel, trauma-inducing punishment for bad grades (getting locked in a cellar for a night, for instance). 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. This can be tricky in the UK as it is still a class system. It does help to be genuine and accepting of everyone’s background though.
- National and cultural group – my parents had a student exchange with Danish folk universities so I was able to travel even under 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 personally found it fascinating. Today I sometimes struggle to navigate the British political correctness because it also comes with a certain silence around the cultural heritage. Especially in Brexit years, we have experienced a strong need for language around cultural identity. I wrote a few articles about Brexit and in all cases, I was praised for my ability to navigate the topic in a balanced way but this comes from years of experience of having to discuss national and cultural aspects of life openly. Not talking about our heritage 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, actually. When I moved to Hungary at the age of 18 I was curious and open about new cultures, but not
carefulabout my very own biased, often even racist statement. My problem was something we all share: the need to belong to a group and so to look at the world from our own 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 to fall into because both countries are predominantly racist and so living in Budapest as a Polish girl I felt home but 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 it in me was probably the most crucial part of it.
- Professional slang – as I grew up and started working in the software industry and in business, my world opened up to flying business class and spending my working hours with people passionate about similar topics. I entered the world of acronyms and databases. I then moved into the world of social media and really quickly joined a smaller group and later masses of people following trends. Because I joined the second wave of bloggers, people who saw many leading social networks coming into our lives, I was really keen and positive about them all. It was only when I worked for a small startup agency which aimed to educate charities on social media when the topic was still new that I have realised my own little box. It takes that one moment when you walk into the room and start training but see that people simply do not understand a world of what you are saying. A good communicator knows it looks bad on them, not on the audience. So I had to stop, get outside of my own tech bubble and learn to speak 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. and by the time Millenials joined this new world, it wasn’t really so new 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 fairly simple: assuming that I know better than my son so I do not have to treat him as equal, nor as someone who might be right. When in actual fact he grew up in this reality and knows 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 simply 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 in now enriched by his generation and all the other ones coming after him.
- Binary gender bubble – this one is big for me because I suffered greatly as a woman in the tech industry, but not as much as many of my friends. I grew up with boys, hanging out with my older brother’s gang I was actually “the untouchable” which boosted my little girl’s ego into something which later became very useful in my adult life. I learned how to tell men to fuck off when needed. 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 oftentimes gained me the label of “annoying”, “self-centred”, “200% of herself” but worked in getting me the status men would have served by default. It was only when I lived in a very small 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 it is formed by the rules of our society. And those rules do not place people who are not clearly men in any favourable 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 realise the stereotypes they are enforcing. So it’s important 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 and realised that children with seemingly strong limitations like Autism are actually wonderfully skilled in areas that I am poor at. 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 being told that we are strong or weak but actually life can throw so much at us that no matter how resilient we are, it might just ruin all our defences. It has happened to me at the time when I was actually quite happy and did not expect everything around me to fall apart. I was always a very
resillientand self-efficient person but sometimes we simply 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 to 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 but those areas are important for my life but also for all my paid and voluntary work. What is important for you?