Heartstyles blog

There's more to heart than being 'nice': Why discomfort is vital to growth


Dr. Mara Klemich – Founder & Consulting Psychologist

As an organisation, heart is at the centre of what we do. There's nothing very special in that - it's at the centre of everything everyone does. But what exactly is this all-important 'heart'?

Undoubtedly, there are cynics out there for whom the term sets alarm bells ringing. For them, it's a wishy-washy word. Perhaps it conjures up images of team building exercises full of trust falls and hugs, where the focus is on a superficial feel-good factor, rather than lasting growth.

To us, 'heart' goes a lot deeper than that. We know very well that discomfort is part of the parcel of character development. And that it doesn't always feel 'nice'. In fact, some behaviours we might think of as 'nice' are actually manifestations of fear and pride (and therefore below the line).

Why? Let's dive in...

How getting along can hold you back

It can be easy to think that personal development is all about looking inward. It's certainly true that you can't start building more effective behaviours until you understand the way you currently act. (That's the reason we spent so much time developing the Heartstyles Indicator - a proprietary tool designed to deliver these insights.)

But there's a big difference between seeking self-knowledge and seeking self-validation - and sometimes an inward focus can become a trap. To quote our founders book, Above the Line:

"Our below the line behaviours are based on an 'outside-in' approach to the world, looking to others and our environment to approve us, validate us and build our sense of worth. Because our need for approval is so innate, we're often triggered into approval seeking behaviours."

Why is that such a bad thing? After all, we all need the approval of others to get by. And if you've got ambitious plans, you're going to need a few people on your side...

That's true. But people are only worth having onside if they actually share your vision. That can only happen if you've been authentic with them. And if you're actively seeking their approval, that's not very likely to happen...

You may get along fine, but you'll be enjoying what our founders, Stephen and Mara Klemich, call an 'artificial harmony' - one that's based not on mutual, deeply-held values but a reciprocal need for acceptance.

There are a number of harmful ways this dynamic might play out. At work, you could find yourself perpetually saying 'yes' to anything your colleagues ask. Overloaded, you find yourself increasingly stressed and unable to turn up as your best self.

Likewise, in your relationships you may avoid difficult but necessary conversations. ('Avoiding' is a separate below the line behaviour to 'approval seeking', but they share a lot in common.) When things go unsaid, that leaves room for resentment to fester.

Of course, in both these scenarios (and the endless others we could have outlined) it isn't just you that loses out. If you burnout at work, someone else is going to have to step in. If you can't share your true thoughts and feelings with your partner, they may end up feeling that - far from being accommodating - you're actually shutting them out.

But more than all that, you'll be denying them an important chance to grow...

Personal development is never just personal

We've seen a description of 'outside-in' living. Now let's take a look at it's opposite:

"The inside-out approach to life is when we have a strong sense of our inner worth and purpose. [...] We then have the desire to build that same sense of worth and purpose in others, to move forward alongside them [...]"

This desire to help others grow is essential in growing ourselves. We're far from the only ones who think so. There's an ever-expanding body of academic literature that points to the benefits individuals reap when they seek to improve the lives of others.

The thing is, a lot of altruism is 'nice' in a very straightforward way. While donating to charity is a financial sacrifice, it isn't an experience many of us find awkward or unpleasant. But helping to change someone's circumstances is very different from shifting their behaviours.

To do that, you have to be able to address issues that may need work. This can be uncomfortable. But, as we've said before, uncomfortable situations often serve as an emotional gym - a place where we can build our strength of character. So how do you go about offering the authentic feedback others around you need?

The importance of 'care-frontation'

Developing others isn't always going to be easy. Sometimes, it's about tackling harmful behaviours - behaviours which themselves may be driven by painful episodes in a person's past.

Getting through such discussions productively, depends on two things. First and foremost, they have to be honest. But secondly (and just as importantly) that honesty has to be framed in the right way. It should be obvious that you're wholly concerned with the best interests of the person you're talking to and that they aren't under attack. To borrow a phrase from Above the Line, it's a case of "combining objectivity and empathy".

How and when you go about having your care-frontations will depend on the specific circumstances in question, but the general concept (nicely summarised below) is always the same:

"[Developing others] doesn't mean finding fault, criticizing or correcting in a controlling way. It means helping people recognise their development opportunities."

To achieve this, we have to act out of love rather than fear - trading our approval seeking and avoiding behaviours for authentic and developing ones. For some of us, that may mean finding the courage to be a little less 'nice'.

Ready to start your own Heartstyles journey? Contact us.