A Coaching Power Tool Created by Petya Wienand
(Communication Coach, BULGARIA)
We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Carl Jung
Definitions from the Oxford Dictionary (part of the definition of the two concepts):
Acceptance: the process of allowing somebody to join something or be a member of a group;
Tolerance: the willingness to accept or tolerate somebody or something especially opinions or behavior that you may not agree with, or people who are not like you.
Why Acceptance is Significantly Different from Tolerance?
Acceptance and tolerance are two inter-related concepts, interfacing to some extent, yet distinguished through important nuances. While Acceptancedirectly speaks to our deep need for belonging and appreciation, for being someone that matters and being recognized as such; Tolerance positions us on a border, as an outsider, neither here nor there; or here, but almost invisible. Furthermore, when we accept something or someone, we make contact with them, we trust them and interact with them; while when we tolerate them, we may choose to ignore them, avoid them, tacitly resist them, reject them.
Essentially, we yearn to be accepted, not simply tolerated.
When we accept, we change our direction from judgment and an option to escape from what we may initially find intimidating or unlikable, to non-judgment and the possibility for a contact, (Pettigrew, 1998). Along similar lines, the prominent American Psychologist Gordon Allport proposed the contact theory or the idea that direct contact is the most effective antidote to prejudice. When we accept we engage in contact, we turn to even when we may not agree and agree to disagree. Choosing contact, we choose attitude instead of indifference, we choose to reconsider where we stand, we choose to trust. Thus, through the very act of choice, we become aware of our power to affect change and growth. In this way, we become empowered, aware of our strength to learn, to move forward, based on our own will, rather than being pushed forward by circumstances.
In contrast, tolerance without acceptance retains judgment, such that often is subdued, negative, and intolerant, and therefore a position that may evolve into hostility or conflict. This happens as simply tolerance may leave us stuck into a fixed mindset (Dweck, 2008), into disempowering beliefs about who we are, and what we can do. In such a mindset, to protect ourselves, we easily become opposed to what has been perceived as tolerated, and then we get driven by the desire to be right at all costs (Fisher & Shapiro, 2006; Shapiro, 2017). Eventually, insistence “to be right” necessarily implies the other is wrong, and thus we block any or all attempts at finding common ground, at connecting, at understanding. Simply tolerance without acceptance and engagement may preclude communication before even a contact has been established, or at best leave it on a very superficial level.
To accept, on the other hand, is to accept change, or at least the possibility for change, and to move away from denial, from reactivity and avoidance, i.e. back into communication. In this sense, acceptance is a willing and mindful response to the circumstances we live in versus an automatic reaction due to automatic and unengaged tolerance. This movement to change is crucial, as it opens us up to understand, to reach out, to create. Opening up, without prejudice, is the first step towards mutual respect in human interactions, recognizing that the “other” is as vulnerable as I am; that there are things that we can share, and things that we may differ on; but we are deeply connected through our humanity as expressed in our emotions that are behind our world views, rituals, and routines. Through acceptance, we become interested and curious, and we can enter into a dialogue that recognizes nuances versus a positional encounter based on “either…or” binary thinking.
Once we move into acceptance, we feel empowered and enabled to see the beauty in our lives and our relationships, they acquire new meaning as they come to the fore vs the background, where we can again tend to them mindfully and replenish them. This in itself is a shift into how we have been perceiving our world until then.
Tolerance does not allow for this shift as it sees the difference as something that separates us or at best as an annoyance, hence something that we may not engage with. Not engaging then is closing ourselves to the opportunities that contact has, particularly, if such contact is in any way vital to or part of our life.
Self-acceptance is a major part of self-development and growth. We cannot grow or develop what we do not like or try to avoid. Acceptance, on the other hand, sides with trust and love. It welcomes a holistic view of ourselves and our lives. We no longer are stuck in trying “to repair” what we do not like in ourselves or others, but rather engage with it constructively. Further, we become more resilient to any obstacles that come our way(Prince-Embury, Saklofske, & Vesely, 2015). It is this concept that has been taken up to develop the Acceptance and Commitment therapy, applied with significant success in psychological treatment.
Self-acceptance enhances our self-worth, which is vital to anything we achieve, and vital to our psychological well-being, therefore happiness (Ryff, 1989). Self-worth is our belief that we are valuable for the simple reason that we exist, and this is the core drive to enhancing our well-being through finding meaning and purpose in our lives and thus achieving any goals that we set for ourselves. Without it, we are tempted to rely on validation from outside, which is a precarious situation that makes us dependent on the whims of others. With self-acceptance, we set ourselves free to live the life that we want to live and tap into its implicit opportunities and simple beauty. Also, only through accepting ourselves, we can accept and connect to another human being.
Therefore, Acceptance is power, as once we accept something, we no longer try to resist it by tolerating; while thus we have the only opportunity to transform it: through accepting its reality as it is at the moment. This releases the energy and strength that are, otherwise, trapped and often wasted in resistance and/or tacit hostilities, or in trying to please, to live up to standards imposed from outside. In this sense, Acceptance makes this released strength available to invest in ourselves by allowing the possibility for us to live more in the flow, in sync with ourselves, and the people that form part of our network.
Last, but not least, self-acceptance allows us to understand what we stand for, and thus what would be the healthy boundaries that we retain between us and the outside world.
Coaching, being essentially a change process, relies on acceptance. In coaching, this is the acceptance of the beliefs, thoughts, and desires that a client has to move forward from a blockage they may have. By accepting their self from a place of love, the client shifts their perspective into embracing the necessary steps they undertake to achieve their own goals.
In the coaching process, through considering acceptance, the client becomes aware of an expanded perspective on an issue, of their true authentic needs and emotions, which enables them to make the right decisions for themselves to move forward. Also, through a process of self-acceptance, the client’s belief in their own abilities increases, thus shifting from significance to lightness, to self-management.
Further, acceptance is the way for the client to recognize their own emotions underlying the issue they are sharing and the emotions relating to the possible decisions they need to make to get closer to their goal(Goleman, 2006).
Finally, when clients are getting coaching to improve their communication with others, either at work or in personal life, acceptance is crucial as it underlies constructive relationships and is a necessary condition to invoke authenticity in the relationship. As Dan Shapiro stated, “Everyone craves acceptance”(Shapiro, 2017), or to change, one needs to feel accepted first. This is so as acceptance invites honesty, and with that genuine contact versus an attempt to present a contrived image.
Questions that may be applied to help the client in self-acceptance:
- What is it like if you felt fully supported?
- What is it like when you trust yourself?
- What is your power?
- What are your main strengths?
- What would it be like if you were your own best friend?
- How does the exploration of this belief connect to your strength?
- How can you apply self-acceptance to the discussed issue?
Case in Acceptance
Sara was recently promoted to a leadership position. Unfortunately, while this happened she was separating from her long-term partner, shortly after she was terminated from her long-held job. This made Sara doubt herself and her abilities to cope in the new position, and to face and appreciate the challenges of her new role as a leader. For example, she was required to communicate with academics and they commented that she could not be regarded as a professional as she behaved like a scared student. On this basis they avoided meeting them, giving presentations, or even representing the company.
During a coaching period that lasted for about a year, it became clear that Sara was afraid of authority as she did not believe in her capacity to understand concepts relating to her job or to be a leader of competent and confident professionals. Sara felt so intimidated as to be afraid to even give her first public presentation. During exploration, it came out that as a child she was severely punished when she could not learn the alphabet at the speed that she was expected to. That made Sara very vulnerable to other people’s judgments of herself and distrust her capabilities.
To restore her belief in herself and her abilities to perform in the leadership position, Sara worked with a strengths finder and an exercise that focused on understanding the numerous and diverse aspects of her identity and values that were relevant to her performance. This process involved exploring the dysfunctional beliefs that held her back, applying cognitive-behavioral principles, and enacting possible dialogues with the professors, as well as enacting the pending presentation itself. Most of the sessions involved a focus on enhancing self-acceptance and self-efficacy.
Now Sara is a successful leader and has had numerous presentations, while during the last meeting with the University professors she was invited to the Dean’s table.
Sara was avoiding to accept the changed circumstances of her life and the consequent change to her self-perception, which made her automatically avoid taking up the new responsibilities and seeking approval from every person that she had to interact with. Avoidance made her anxious and blocked her energy to achieve her goals. She tolerated the new circumstances, but that made her afraid to take action.
By learning to accept herself and to be more compassionate to herself Sara gained new confidence and the energy to perform in the new challenging environment.
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset. Ballantine Books Trade.
Fisher, R., & Shapiro, D. (2006). Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate. Penguin Books.
Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Dell.
Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65–85. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.65
Prince-Embury, S., Saklofske, D. H., & Vesely, A. K. (2015). Measures of Resiliency. Measures of Personality and Social Psychological Constructs (pp. 290–321). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-386915-9.00011-5
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is Everything, or is it? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069–1081. https://doi.org/10.1037/034645
Shapiro, D. (2017). Negotiating the Nonnegotiable. Penguin Books.