Dashboard Wisdom | Uncategorized

Are you being a coach, a mentor… or just a jerk?

jerkThrough the years, I have looked up the difference between coaching and mentoring several times. They just seemed to be used without clear boundaries. Each time I read their definitions, I thought I understood their meanings and tried to use them correctly in a sentence. And there really is a difference between them, but that difference is not actually the point of this article.

The point of this article is that sometimes a person is doing neither. Sometimes they are simply uninvited guests, even if well-meaning, and sometimes they go a step further and are jerks who like the sound of their own voice and who seem to hide their incredible conceit behind words that make them sound, and even feel like a “giver.”

Did you follow all that? I’ll grant you that 40+ words might be just a little long for one sentence. However, I think you can get a real feeling for my intention if you ramble through them as written.

There are two main points of this article, after which you can just skip down to the comments. Come on, we’ve all done it.

  • Point one- If you want to be a real coach or mentor, learn when “no thank you” really does mean “no thank you.”
  • Point two- Always be working on your communication skills. Conceit and condescension rarely win clients. At least not clients who have the chutzpa to make changes.

There was a thread recently on a writer’s group here at LinkedIn that asked the question: what to do when you receive unsolicited advice. There were some very mature and wise responses such as; take what you can and leave the rest.

That was not my response.

My response was neither mature nor wise, but a bit juvenile and reactionary. This might have been because I had recently found myself on the receiving end (if you can call my wall of “really… no thanks” receiving) of unwanted and unwarranted advice and suggestions from a person who titled himself a coach, but clearly had no training and doubtful any clients. His demeanor was abrasive and condescending.

You may be asking, understandably, why I continued any relationship at all with this person. Quite simply, it seemed somewhat obvious that he didn’t have any real experience in coaching or mentoring, and I thought perhaps a friendship might help him develop his skills with people.

However, the relationship became more strained when he felt a need to advise me how horrible my website was, after I had clearly told him that my website was in the process of a complete revamping, and once I had it sorted out in my head, I’d sort it out on the web. I was then informed once again how he could take care of that for me. “No, thank you.”

I was clear when I said that although I am not a pro, I preferred to take care of my website myself. I enjoy figuring stuff out on my own and making changes on my own. He tried to sell his services as an adviser. I assured him I had lots of help available should I desire it. He took the opportunity to state that whatever help I was utilizing was pretty poor, considering the state of my site. I again tried to clarify that the site was to be revamped, but I was not ready yet.

In case you go check it out (which is really not recommended, yet), at this publishing it is still in need of the revamp, but I’m getting more clear in my head.

He continued to harangue me with thinly veiled solicitations. Having visited his website, I knew quickly that I didn’t want to take any advice on website design. It screamed used car salesman, and unfortunately he was not one. “No, thank you.”

Throughout this solicitation masquerading as a friendship, and the obligatory phrases of “I am a giver, and want to help you,” and my responses of, “Thanks anyway, I appreciate it, but I’m ok,” the distaste was becoming more than I could stomach.

The self-described coach was becoming more and more offensive, although I didn’t take offense. See my previous article for more on what I consider offensive, but for our discussion here it is enough to say that I would need to have respect for someone’s opinion of me before I could be offended by them.

I have since ended the relationship, whatever it was. It very clearly was not coaching or mentoring or even friendship.

I hope that you may now recognize a jerk masquerading as a coach or mentor quickly .

For those of you who are new to the practice, I hope this article might help you to recognize where you are invited and where you might be considered a jerk. If you hear “No, thank you,” and clearly defined boundaries that do not include any sort of coaching but only the mutual give and take of a friendship, acknowledge it and accept it.

If you are seeking a coach or mentor, I have some advice for you as well. There are some absolutely amazing coaches and mentors out there. Every field you can think of has them. Some have certifications and some don’t. Some have big name clients and some don’t.

Good mentors and coaches generally share some basic characteristics, even though they really are different animals.

Characteristics to look for:

  • They are good listeners.
  • They are good at building trust.
  • They build relationships.
  • They are good listeners.
  • They start pushing only when they have a mutual agreement to do so.
  • They build other people up, not themselves.
  • They drive economical cars (just seeing if you are paying attention).
  • Did I mention they are good listeners?
  • They put your needs as a priority (not their own).
  • Even when they are pushing they are nice and treat people with respect.


A few signs to send you running out the door:

  • They repeatedly say things like “I’m a giver.” Real givers don’t feel the need to advertise it.
  • They refer to your questions as “stop signs.” Real stop signs should be respected. Road bumps would be handled deftly by a real experienced coach or mentor.
  • They refer to your “No thank you” as stop signs, but they disregard it. They tend to use that phrase (stop sign) a lot, and see pretty much everything other than a green light to continue, as a stop sign. This is their issue. Don’t allow them to drag you into a session you have already clearly stated you don’t want.
  • If you do not allow them to plow over the top of you with their unasked-for advice, they will use phrases such as “you don’t even know enough to know what you don’t know.” They can use the phrase dozens of times in one single email. It is my experience that the more they repeat their pet phrases such as “stop signs” and this last one, is a direct correlation to their inexperience and lack of communication skills. These phrases are defensive offenses.

If you are an experienced coach or mentor, I doubt you would find yourself in this situation, and I invite you to share other signs, both good and bad, in the comments. If you have had an experience from hell with a self-described coach or mentor, feel free to share.

This has been the gist of the experience. I might one day share the actual emailed conversation, but for now it is just going to make the rounds of friends and family.

I am a humorous and inspirational speaker and writer, but Storytelling is my love. I am an open-networker and invite you to connect. Please feel free to join the conversation on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @Dachia .

Photos supplied by FreeDigitalPhotos.net and photostock

The above was originally published on LinkedIn.