Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull of what you really love.

–-- Rumi, from "An Empty Garlic," trans. Coleman Barks

Of Love and Truth


I don’t want to make this too the­o­ret­i­cal or abstract. By love, I mean the whole range of things we do to show care for oth­ers, not attrac­tion or romance. By truth I mean the oppo­site of lies, decep­tion and cov­er-ups, espe­cial­ly hav­ing to do with what we tell our­selves and oth­ers. So here’s a sto­ry about love and truth.

I remem­ber work­ing with some­one who had devel­oped a deep con­flict with her man­ag­er regard­ing work­ing styles. They’d known each oth­er for years, but some­thing had changed in their once close rela­tion­ship. Now judg­ments and con­tempt and angry exchanges had set­tled in. Nei­ther could find a way to reclaim the rap­port they’d once enjoyed. Their well intend­ed efforts to share feed­back and to take it in no longer worked. They seemed to have grown in dif­fer­ent direc­tions over time and had come, some­how, to mis­trust one anoth­er in a core way.

Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion my client asked me point blank whether she should leave her job. As a coach, most often I will avoid answer­ing that ques­tion like the plague. It belongs to the client, not me, to make such an impor­tant choice — although I will cer­tain­ly help any client reflect deeply on what­ev­er uncom­fort­able chal­lenge the per­son is fac­ing. But this time my client was in gen­uine anguish and after many con­ver­sa­tions with the man­ag­er and with me seemed deeply stuck. She was in some kind of cul-de-sac and had been for months, torn over loy­al­ty to a fad­ed friend­ship that was not com­ing back and to a work part­ner­ship that had become seri­ous­ly acri­mo­nious. So I gave my client my take — yes, she should leave, and right away to avoid the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being fired — my truth about where she stood and how to get out of the dilem­ma. I did­n’t mince words about her options and I shared some thoughts on how she had­n’t been tak­ing very good care of her­self. I was not try­ing to be espe­cial­ly com­pas­sion­ate. It just seemed I need­ed to be an hon­est mes­sen­ger that day in the face of suffering.

As I explained my thoughts, a wave of relief appeared to pass over her. She thanked me. That after­noon she told her man­ag­er she intend­ed to leave and pro­posed a time­line that would give her a rea­son­able peri­od to look for anoth­er job and for the man­ag­er to set up recruit­ment for a replace­ment. A few months lat­er, I received an email from my client. “I am grate­ful that you were hon­est with me and told me the truth,” she wrote. I am work­ing for the ___________ Agency now and I am so much hap­pi­er. I feel appre­ci­at­ed for the first time in years.”

Maybe my being so direct and telling her she should leave would vio­late some coach­ing eth­ic. I don’t know. What I do know is that some­times if you do care about anoth­er per­son — your friend, your client, your part­ner — the thing you feel you must do is tell the truth. In such cir­cum­stances, truth and love merge and become iden­ti­cal and unde­ni­able. It’s not about get­ting your own per­spec­tive off your chest, or com­pen­sat­ing for your own feel­ings (of guilt or inse­cu­ri­ty, for exam­ple). Instead, it’s just some­thing that springs from the heart so obvi­ous­ly that what­ev­er risk might be involved, or judg­ment, it is tran­scend­ed by doing the mean­ing­ful thing. That’s the way it felt to me, bring­ing the need to drop my usu­al kind of impro­vi­sa­tion­al coach­ing jazz in favor of play­ing a straight melody line.

I know I have to be care­ful. There are bound­aries and they mean some­thing. But I’ve nev­er been good at col­or­ing entire­ly with­in the lines. 



  • Gayle Miller wrote:

    Dan, as always, you get to the heart of life with real and won­der­ful exam­ples of truth — which is what trust build­ing is anchored on, after all! Thank you for shar­ing this from your own journey!

  • Much appre­ci­at­ed, Gayle! Thanks for stop­ping by.

  • Dan,
    This is a very mov­ing sto­ry. Your being blunt or direct gave this client per­mis­sion to fol­low her own felt sense to head out the door. You did not make the deci­sion for her but served as a cat­a­lyst. What con­tin­ues to inter­est me is how a work rela­tion­ship so “in tune” could head south per­ma­nent­ly. I won­der what broke down.

  • Hel­lo Maria!
    Thanks for your kind words — and in answer to your ques­tion about what went wrong, I would say that was always a cen­tral mys­tery. My client and her man­ag­er talked a great deal. Behav­ioral­ly, there were things that nei­ther of them could accept any longer, such as ratio­nal­iza­tion and fault-find­ing relat­ed to the work that was not sat­is­fy­ing. But beneath that lay­er were oth­ers where they each had over time got­ten stronger in their unique ways of doing things and could not com­pro­mise; each hard­ened and became more set in her ways. Even after talk­ing about doing things dif­fer­ent­ly, nei­ther could seem to pull it off, lead­ing to ran­cor. “But you said you were going to…” etc. Where the work demands close col­lab­o­ra­tion and per­son­al­i­ty dif­fer­ences become stronger over time, it some­times proves impos­si­ble to main­tain trust. And, yes, still a mystery!

    All the best

  • george altman wrote:

    Thanks for shar­ing your expe­ri­ence. Isn’t it won­der­ful how act­ing from the heart, love and car­ing can soft­en the edges cre­at­ed by bound­aries. And, who says “one size fits all” when it comes to coaching.

  • Thank you for stop­ping by and shar­ing your kind­ness and wis­dom, George. The obser­va­tion that love soft­ens the edges of bound­aries is a love­ly notion to keep in mind. What’s “right,” “fair” or even “eth­i­cal” is not a check­list or a rigid way of treat­ing peo­ple whose cir­cum­stances and souls are con­di­tioned by his­to­ry and cir­cum­stance. Much appreciated!

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