Integrity, safety and wellbeing
I’ve just done something I’ve never done before: I’ve handed back a 4-year contract.
It wasn’t an easy or a straightforward decision, and it certainly wasn’t distress-free, but it was definitely right for me. It also illuminated some important personal priorities as well as some things I knew already and which were reinforced in the process. I’ve learnt a lot.
At the heart of my decision was an inability to tolerate a client’s terms of engagement – both the formal terms in the shape of changing and unilateral contractual provisions, and the informal terms, manifested in their attitudes and behaviours. The latter had already been there, but as time went on, they became accentuated and aggravated.
The process meant that my deepest values – the values that absolutely have to be in place for me – were compromised. Integrity, professionalism, honesty, care for the coachee experience, respect, acknowledgment, being heard….. They just weren’t there – and I felt deeply unsafe. Something had to give: the stress that this was causing me was unsustainable, and it didn’t look like it was going to go away as long as these working conditions were in play.
A colleague commented that what was happening was moral injury: I felt coerced into perpetrating acts that transgressed my deeply held moral beliefs and my sense of what’s right, fair and appropriate. It’s not a condition for which there’s an easy medicine.
The experience was threatening my wellbeing, and that preservation of my wellbeing was the underpinning of my decision. I had a tough choice to make. Not only the surrender of 4 years of coaching opportunities, but rupturing coaching client relationships, which matter deeply to me.
Relationship is something that I prioritise with clients and universally. I hadn’t realised, though, quite how much that rupturing of relationships with clients would be a cause of distress for me.
Interestingly, the act of handing back the contract in itself didn’t bring instant relief or emotional reward, as the trampling of my values left damage in its wake that was impossible to condone and was hard to witness, whether I was in the contract or outside it. The one thing that has brought temporary relief, though, was the opportunity to express my experience in person to the organisation that had contracted me. Temporary because we will need to see whether there’s any consequence to what I vocalised.
As for the learning, there were certainly early hints of the behaviour to come during the contracting process, although not as severe as it became. Still, it continued to deteriorate: the omens weren’t good. I made my decision at a point where I was causing the least possible damage to client relationships, albeit not being able to totally avoid that damage. I’ve pushed to be heard by the decision-makers, and that’s been important to do (things may not change, but I’ve done all I can). I can sleep at night because I haven’t allowed myself to be forced any longer into behaviour that compromises my professionalism.
The enormous relief that I now feel has reinforced for me that living and working with integrity matters supremely to me, and that I can’t maintain my wellbeing if I’m not behaving in integrity. I now feel safe, partly because, rather than being coerced, I have much more possibility of working with clients who don’t crush me.
I’ve learnt too that doing what matters deeply to me is a significant enabler of tough decisions and tough actions.