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Are You the Nicest Person in the Room?


When I started in the career counselling profession nearly 20 years ago, I worked as an Employment Counsellor. I was hired to be part of a large team of people helping others find jobs as quickly as possible. We had to maintain statistics about our “numbers”. Our numbers were indicators of whether or not we were meeting specific “targets”. They indicated how many of our clients were landing a job within a certain period, how satisfied they were with the help we were providing, and provided a picture of the specific measurable outcomes of our work with clients. It was expected that we’d meet certain “targets”, otherwise, we would have some very real explaining to do.

I’d see other counsellors get pretty stressed out sometimes. I’d see them checking and rechecking their performance indicator numbers often and I’d pay attention to the way they reacted to them. If somebody thought their numbers were “good”, they’d feel proud, relieved, happy, motivated, etc. If they thought their numbers were “bad”, they’d feel the opposite. This would then set off a chain reaction of action that I would view as steeped in emotion best described as somewhere between mania and doom. I’d listen carefully to the reactions of my peers about their “numbers”. Some would try to justify, defend, or even laugh off results that didn’t cut the mustard. Those that felt “good” about their results might remain quiet so as not to “rub it in” to others that didn’t, some might provide advice, or even provide some gentle teasing about how they were the “best” employment counsellor in the office. I probably got teased the most but not because my numbers were bad or good.

But because I didn’t look at them. (Gasp!)

Well, that’s not completely accurate. I did look at them. But significantly less often than my teammates did. Whereas others would review their numbers daily, I looked at mine quarterly. I had set up my system for evaluating the results I was creating with my clients based on things that felt meaningful and within my control. After all, a counsellor and client could do everything “right” and still not hit the targets our funding sources had set out for us. I knew myself. I knew that any system I worked in wouldn’t work if I only focused on the numbers. Focusing on the numbers, seeing them the same way our funders did might have served them, but it wouldn’t serve me or my clients. Inevitably, every quarter my manager would have a meeting with our team to talk about “the numbers”. My manager would only point out specifically who had met their targets. If your name wasn’t brought up, there was this underlying sense that whatever you were doing, wasn’t enough.

I always thought this was ridiculous.

Also, my name was never on this list. I was never on the list of counsellors who had met their targets because quarter over quarter, I didn’t meet the outcome targets.

I exceeded them.

I was almost always the only one to do this.

My success rate was high, not because I had years of experience coaching (remember, this was 20 years ago), not because I was a rare, magical unicorn and not because I happened to get lucky and get “easy clients”. My numbers were high because I had different thoughts about them. I knew better than to make whatever results I was getting with clients mean anything about me—good or bad. At the same time, I was encouraging my clients to learn how to do the same. When others thought that they had to “grind” it out to get better results, they’d also encourage their clients to do the same. It didn’t end well.

The Hustle

Hey, I’m down for a good hustle once in a while. There is an aspect to job search and career change that can be viewed as a numbers game but it’s only part of this puzzle. I saw other counsellors taking lots of action and sending their clients home with a list of action items to cross off as long as their arm. In my early days, I also tried this and soon stopped. I kept seeing a cycle where the longer it took to get the desired results, the more action that was prescribed. Lots of action. Hustle, hustle, hustle, grind, grind, grind. Lots of frustration. Lots of disappointment and fear and discouragement.

I was getting better results with my clients and some weeks I sent them home with an “action plan” containing only one thing to do. You see, it’s not only about the action.

It’s not the action that creates our results. Of course, the action is required but that’s not the magic. Not at first, anyhow.

What I observed time and time again were frightened people trying to use their fear as a way to fuel their actions and create their results. I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to live my life or spend my work time like that. That I wouldn’t make all of my work or life decisions from a place of fear. Now, please don’t think this means I’m a fan of “throwing caution to the wind”, or thinking “leap and the net will appear”. Nope, nope, AND nope.

This is going to sound cheezy. I’m sorry. I’m not a “woo who” type of person as a rule but when it comes to making decisions, I choose to make them from a place of love NOT fear. Always love. What I mean by this is getting real about what I want, resisting short-term wins for a longer-term payoff, and always from a place of knowing I’ve got my own back. NO MATTER WHAT.

I’m okay with getting poor results if it means I’m growing and learning thoughtfully. If it means I’m becoming more resilient and proving to myself that I don’t have to avoid experiences, conversations, or making decisions because I’m afraid. I know I don’t need to be horrible to myself or others when things don’t go perfectly. Mistakes are not a reflection of our worth.

Having Your Own Back

I realize that my job is not to control that which cannot be controlled. My job is not to try to change reality or wish things were different. So I simply don't assign myself that job. My job is to have my own back—to like myself no matter my results and liking my clients no matter theirs. Then I don’t get stuck on the “how”. I don’t need to prove I’m valuable because I’m very busy and important. I take responsibility for my results and I teach my clients to do the same. I focus on doing the right work. The most important work. The work of not getting lost in thoughts and feelings that don’t serve me. This is what I taught my clients and this is why they got amazing results.

AND I never did this by blowing smoke up peoples’ bums. I didn’t jump in the pool and commiserate with my clients about how the job market was bad, how they were too old, how nothing they were doing was working, how they should have gotten an MBA, made a different decision, etc. etc.

I laugh when I think about how I became known as the counsellor who could say anything to anybody and still be liked. Things that other counsellors would hold back from their clients because they worried they wouldn’t be seen as “nice”, I would say.

Always from a place of love and compassion.

I deeply understood that being nice would keep my clients STUCK. Being “nice” was the least KIND thing I could do for someone who wasn’t taking responsibility for THEIR results. I could only take responsibility for mine. Believe me, I had the same desire to be liked and do well as everyone else, I just always approached it differently.

So, I learned to say the things I didn’t want to say. The hard things. I went with my hunches. I trusted my inclination even if it wasn’t the “polite” or “appropriate” or SAFE thing (for me).

I always loved my clients but I never saved my clients' feelings. I didn’t wear kid gloves.

I gave it to them straight, without niceties.

From LOVE.

Sometimes I got ONE CHANCE to tell them the truth.

ONE.

My chance might have been their ONLY chance to hear it.

I was willing to let it cost me a poor score on the customer feedback card we had every client fill out.

I didn’t want to be the “nicest” person in their life, I wanted to be the MOST honest person in their life.

THAT is what helped them create their results. It created their trust in me and it ultimately created my results.

Rather than obsess over my “numbers” every day or every week, I evaluated my work simply. I did this by asking myself 3 things at the end of each week.

1. What went well?

2. What didn’t go well?

3. What am I going to do differently?

Don’t Be the Nicest Person in the Room

I thought about any chips I left un-played. I looked at where I held back from discomfort. I asked myself what it was I wasn’t willing to risk, what I wasn’t willing to feel. I looked at where I kept the truth stifled. Where I was polite instead of compassionate, curious, and honest with my clients and with myself.

Where did I care MORE about being liked than serving?

And what amazing results were my clients missing out on in the name of “being nice”?

I just kept telling the truth. The hard ones. And I continued to be the only counsellor to exceed my numbers. Week after week after week. But I never focused on the numbers. I just kept doing good work. But I didn’t do this blindly, sticking my head in the sand or covering my ears and singing “la la la la” when something wasn’t working. When something we tried didn’t give us amazing results, rather than making that mean we had failed, we evaluated. We used a simple tool: 1. What worked? 2. What didn’t work? 3. What are we going to do differently? I rinsed and repeated and taught my clients to do the same. While my team kept focused on their numbers, I kept getting promoted and eventually taught others how to do the same. I was not a special unicorn. I wasn’t smarter than them or more experienced or nicer. What I did was refuse to get caught up in the nonsense of numbers, and the drama of my teammates or clients. Most importantly though I wasn't afraid to get honest with my thoughts about myself. My mind drama. I didn’t engage with all the thoughts that were mere distractions. That left lots of space for what mattered. Truth and love. I learned to focus on the truth. I learned to lead with love and not fear. I didn’t act or decide things because I was afraid. Afraid of what others would think, how they’d feel, or how I’d feel. I learned that I could feel anything. I learned that when committed to focusing only on what I could control, and on what was true, while having my own back, amazing things happened.

The rest was just noise.

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