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Making a difference (ITWS#14)

I am delighted to be part of a team of coaches supporting the wellbeing of Health and Social Care workers in Scotland as they support the wellbeing of their patients. It’s a purposeful activity, one that has the capacity to make a difference.

Of course, my assumption is that the difference is a positive one, something that improves the life experience of another. I got to wondering about the risk of being too blasé in this assumption, and also the multiple meanings of difference and being different.

First, I thought of our primeval, subconscious defence mechanisms which are active all the time making use of all our senses to scan our environment for difference. If no difference comes up in our scanning we carry on as normal (there is a world of complexity in the consequences of this carrying on as normal too – think of your own habits (your normal) and how hard it is to change them!).

However, if a difference is registered, we analyse it to determine whether it is offering a potential reward or being a possible threat. If a reward, we will have an instinctive ‘step-toward’ response and if a threat we follow an instinctive ‘step away’ response. All of this happens on a time scale that is much faster than our conscious thinking processes. So, stripping all that down, difference is related to the potential to feel threatened. A warning to anyone setting out to make a difference that some may well feel threatened by their intent, however well-meaning that intent is.

Of course, COVID-19 has made a difference to all of us. It has been, and remains, a threat on so many different levels with the most fundamental being the threat to life itself.

The level of threat was so all encompassing that somehow we all suspended the differences between us as individuals. We found friends in our communities we did not know existed. Families have come together as stronger units. Colleagues have suspended differences to make virtual working possible. The health care profession has overcome bureaucratic inertia to make changes to respond to the needs of patient care that would not have seemed possible only months ago. For most of us our sense of wellbeing, although challenged, was positively influenced by that sense of common cause through the COVID-19 peak.

Now we are coming to terms with the impact of COVID19 making a difference and for all of us processing that takes on a greater sense of concern about the impact on me, the individual. Just how different things are for me and how I manage my work and social reality are questions that many of us are grappling with. How the difference is going to play out in our own world creates uncertainty that is unsettling to say the least.

In some of the coaching partnerships with colleagues in the NHS the central challenge has been about new working relationships. Throughout the response to the pandemic the business of retirement, role change, promotion and all other forms of job transition have been taking place. I have no idea why I had developed the assumption that these everyday workplace experiences were still taking place. Of course they are, perhaps in supercharged by the reallocation of effort. It is another whole level of difference, of possible threat, and this one will outlive the immediacy of the acute response to COVID19.

My final reflection is on my motivation as a coach to make a difference. Of course, I have no intention to be threatening in any way, shape or form but for all my coachees I am an unknown and for many of them experiencing coaching is new too. Taking good care to build a trusting coaching partnership is crucial in ensuring that the difference I am offering is seen as an opportunity by my coachees. I am mindful never to take this for granted and this is supported by sharing best practice with other coaches who are coaching on this programme. So, thanks to all those involved in the Coaching for Wellbeing programme who in working together have made a difference. A positive one!

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