Mentoring is about helping a person to reclaim their life and find the true path - the one that they were made to travel. One of the major differences between mentoring my way and how many practice either mentoring or coaching is the agenda of the person rendering aid. I have encountered so many who aspire to such a role but who seem to be engaged in an exercise of self-validation and a demonstration of superior wisdom. These promulgators of postulated preeminence are easy to spot. They have a packaged approach - a one-size-fits-all perspective. They proscribe much like your typical sixth grade teacher does. "Now children, don't do that and never say that!"
One of the most astonishing imbalances, when it comes to those who dispense advice, is the imbalance between proscription and prescription. If you read most of what they offer, you are certain to become paranoid and carry a tremendous load of uncertainty into anything you attempt. How many articles have you read that start out “Ten Things Not To Do During…”? One gets the distinct impression that the people who write these articles are looking at the world out of the wrong, posterior orifice.
Basic psychology tells us that the easiest way to sabotage your own interests is to think about ways that you sabotage your own interest. Quick, for the next twenty seconds don’t think of an elephant. See what I mean?
A disgraced US Vice President added a phrase to the lexicon which seems appropriate here. These Nattering Nabobs of Negativism offer a view of the world that is consistently looking down. Their commandments are the clearest evidence of how they view the world. Darkly!
Got This Feeling?
I’m sure that most of these purveyors of negativism see themselves as good Samaritans. I’m equally sure that they see what they deliver as helpful advice bordering on wisdom. But they are so self-involved that they don’t see the impact of the tone of their message. They’re so involved with the idea that they are doing good that the idea that they’re doing harm is a complete nonstarter for them. What do they say about the road to hell? Oh yes, that it’s paved with good intentions.
I recently came across one of these “Ten Not To…” articles. It was purporting to give advice on how to act during a job interview. As I read it, I could imagine the anxiety building up in a reader who was preparing for an important interview. I could see the brow furrowing and the gut tightening. It wasn't a pretty sight.
I don’t believe it does any good to load people up with negative proscriptions. The presumption that somehow this amounts to doing good is offensive to me. In my mentoring work, I have seen many examples of people who have been damaged by this kind of presumption. Undoing the damage is not a pleasant experience and not one that is accomplished quickly. I found the article so reflexively negative that I decided to provide an alternative view.
As a side comment, it always amazes me that it always seems to add up to ten; as if the world is organized in such a way that things parade around in groups of ten. Well, to be fair, sometimes they seem to parade around in groups of five. I’m not sure if any of these purveyors of negativity even suspect how intellectually insulting such slavish tendencies toward symmetry are but I can tell you that it’s a clear signal of intellectual weakness on the part of the author. Stronger minds say what they have to say and whatever it adds up to is simply a random occurrence.
So what’s the alternative? Well maybe the following table will help?
|Nattering Nabobs of Negativism||Positively Positives|
|Don’t Be Unprepared||Be Prepared|
|Don’t Go Casual||Dress Appropriately|
|Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions||Remember, you are gathering information as well as providing it.|
|Don’t Use Clichés||Be genuine|
|Don’t Trash Your Current Employer||Focus on your future not your past|
|Don’t Be Fake||The real and authentically who you are|
|Don’t Chit Chat||Focus your comments and questions on what’s important|
|Don’t Be Evasive||Be direct about your interests, concerns and who you are|
|Don’t Talk Money||If the question of money comes up, let the interviewer set the agenda|
|Don’t Just Walk Away||Always remember that it’s a human being you’ve been talking to. This is a person with whom you may develop a long-term relationship. Treat them accordingly both during and after the interview.|
So let me turn to the article and let’s look at a couple of quotes. Here’s the first one:
While building three successful businesses I’ve had the opportunity to conduct over a thousand interviews. Let me share with you 10 common faults I’ve identified from that experience. Avoid them if you really want to get the exciting job of your dreams.
Did you catch the stark comparison between the view that the author has of himself and the view that of their audience? The former is shrouded in images of success while the latter is covered with suspicions of ineptitude. But the real sleight-of-hand is in the last sentence. The author is going to tell you what you might be doing wrong but doesn’t intend to tell you how to do it right.
Let’s move on to a second quote:
So, why is it that so many prospective employees don’t seem to grasp the essentials of getting the interviewer to fall in love with them and make a commitment to hire them?
A reasonable question might be, why is a purveyor of love potion #9 so intent on making the individual they are trying to sell the snake oil look so small and incompetent? I’m willing to entertain the suggestion that performance during an interview will help clarify whether you are a good fit for the job you’re interviewing for. But the author seems to completely ignore that issue. In the article, it's not a question of a good fit, it’s a question of falling in love. Any of you had the experience of having it feel so right on the way in and head south shortly thereafter? I rest my case.
The Message is Marred
The basic problem that I have with the article is that the approach of the author is limiting the impact of some fairly good ideas. There are some positive statements but they are heavily encrusted with negativity. They are also poorly developed.
The process of behavior change is either enhanced or limited by the messages that the person trying to make the change is receiving. During my years of mentoring a wide range of individuals, I have come to understand that "showing the way to" is much more powerful than "showing the way not to". My own work is with truly transformational journeys during which clients make fundamental and wide reaching changes in their lives. I learned that focusing on the negative is easiest way to induce shame and uncertainty. Focusing on the positive is a much more effective way of supporting an individual in their efforts to make positive changes in their lives.
But I’ve learned something else that’s even more important. I’ve learned that my sixth grade elementary school teacher had a useful technique for helping me to learn. She was insistent and proscriptive. I needed to learn the rules of civilized society and most of them were proscriptions. But then I grew up and so did the people I work with. I learned that treating them like sixth-graders by telling them what not to do is not only unproductive but it’s damaging as well.
As I see it, an author gives themselves away by the approach they take to the reader. Some write in order to massage their ego in public. If you divide their comments you will quickly see that they hold themselves in the highest esteem and their audience in substantially less. My recommendation would be to avoid these people as they will be continually looking down on you.
The good authors hold their readers in high esteem. They are writing with the purpose of communicating with readers that they see as intelligent and able to understand what is being written without having to have it reduced to the Ten Commandments. Good authors also provide positive advice that can lead to an enhanced experience of living.
Do a Survey Before Reading
Here’s a tip that might help you decide which articles to pay attention to and which to ignore. Before you actually read an article scan it for red flags. Keep an eye out for authors who seemed to be too much in love with themselves and reflexively certifying their superiority. Then scanned through the article and see what the rough balance between negative and positive statements is. If the author looks to be a Nattering Nabob of Negativism, look elsewhere.
On the other side, if you find that the article is written by an author who seems to be more interested in helping you understand than taking a belt to you for screwing up, by all means read the article and then search for more from the same author.
The people who will help you make positive changes in your life are those who are both willing and able to make the effort without resorting to polishing their own ego. When you find people like this, get close to them and listen. Let them know who you are and how they can help. One of the greatest joys is finding such a person and being helped by them. But an even greater joy, and I can tell you this from direct experience, is having helped.
Life Is To Short To Drink Bad Wine
© Earl R Smith II, PhD
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, NPI Team Lead,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,