I was given a compliment the other day, and immediately experienced a “splitness” in myself. Part of me was really chuffed and flattered at the recognition. Another part of me felt anxious… “don’t get too big for your own boots Michelle” came the echo of a familiar parental voice. I also experienced some anxiety about my future performance for this client. Would I be able to keep up the “good work” – would I deliver to their expectations? Ah yes, the voice of the imposter, a voice that I, and I suspect many of you, know only too well ?!
Now, as an individual I have a personal developmental challenge of stepping into and owning the space I have created for myself…. But that is the subject of a whole different story…!
Today, I want to make the connection between who we are as a human being and how we are as a supervisor. I am often reminded of this observation made by Lowe (1999)
“….claims to make therapy transparent do not remove the inherent power inequality in the roles of therapist and client. However much a therapist does not behave like an expert, the role of the therapist is still there, and the client will always be aware that at any point the therapist could choose to use the power in their role. The therapist could of course use their power for the client’s benefit; but this notwithstanding, there is still an inequality in the positions of the therapist and client which is not removed by any kind of therapist behaviour as a person.”
I find the truth in this unsettling and it makes me hyper-conscious of any invitation during supervision to step into the role of expert and of illustrating that I may “know more”. So how do we wear of sense of pride in our experience, in our good work, in the sharpness of our insight, in the strength with which we hold our humility….without also colluding with the power that our role affords us and without looking or feeling that our ego is inflated?
Recently in a group session, a supervisee thanked me for a question that “hit the spot” and from which deep insight emerged. I thanked her for her thanks and also commented that it was thanks to the group too. I felt that in large part her ability to answer the question was related to how she felt in the presence of the whole group. I liked my response it felt honest. I owned my space, and I honoured the contribution of the group. I have discussed this moment with fellow coaches and my own supervisor. How do other people “get it right”? There was one response which I intend to steal and make my own. One person responds to a compliment by saying – “I’m glad it worked for you”. I like that. I can imagine saying that and feeling congruent. Another person recounted that when asked how a new workshop with a particularly challenging group of delegates went, she said “Brilliantly… as always”. It was said with a chuckle and a lightness that could not be mistaken for an overblown ego. I liked that, but I cannot imagine saying that… and getting it “right” !
When I have completed my own work, and I sit comfortably in my own space, I anticipate that I will become more eloquent when receiving endorsements of my work. Meanwhile, I am keen to understand how other people manage any ambivalence that comes with their pride.
So what do you do when a part of you starts to swell with pride, and another part simultaneously puts in place all the counterbalances which are the product of a well-intentioned but suppressing parental tone, urging us to remember what size our boots actually are.
I’d love to hear your examples and stories, perhaps together we can all find the right size boots for ourselves
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