I’ve had an interesting week.
I had a wonderful catch up with good friend DocWitch Op-Shopping and nibbling quality choc, followed by an absolute nightmare of an evening at a ‘Sacred’ Women’s Group.
I was going to do a short version of what happened but I think that I’ll risk sounding petty and simply record it in most of its fullness. Partly because I’d like to be honest about what’s happening in my life and partly because if anyone who reads this knows this woman, I’d like to offer them a moments pause before they engage her services.
I had met our facilitator, Elly Jolly, a woman of 60+ with years of life coaching experience, only once before, at the recommendation of a friend as part of a women’s group Elly was heading up. My second meeting with was scheduled for a dinner at a particular restaurant in Carlton for 6.30pm. I arrived at 6.15pm, asked for her by name, enquired about the reservation she assured us would be in her name and were told there was none. The restaurant actually doesn’t do reservations. Tracey, my friend, arrived about 15 minutes later. I had already organised a large table (outside as requested, despite the cold), so we ordered a coffee and waited – continually scanning the horizon for her and the other women we were due to meet.
After about an hour (of wondering where on earth everybody was) I finally spotted her and went over to greet her. What I got for my trouble was a very rude greeting followed by an extremely aggressive attack. It transpired that despite my efforts at locating her at the venue, she had remained unfound and this was apparently an awful insult to her magnificence as leader of the group. Now, I can understand someone being upset if they HAD been kept waiting especially for nearly an hour but she had not been. We had simply not seen each other in a crowded cafe – that was all. As much as we had failed to see her, she had failed to see the two of us and our extremely large table! Even worse was that after we had met up, she said that she had been a regular of that restaurant for over 30 years – that all the staff knew her and yet, they didn’t recognise her name or point her out when we asked about her.
Anyway, the upshot of this unfortunate experience was that she behaved like a spoilt, bullying child. She made the entire waiting experience our fault and proceeded to berate us for ‘not looking’ for her, ‘not asking’ for her by name and for making her wait. “I wait 10 minutes for clients, then I’m gone!” After this had settled down (and it took a while), she then went on the attack AGAIN – this time berating Tracey for her gracious offer of hosting the event at her house. All Tracey did was ask why Elly chose a restaurant to meet in, when she had offered her house at the last meeting. Well – boy did she ever wish she hadn’t asked. Elly made the whole thing Tracey’s fault. Elly said she’d called and left messages (she hadn’t), that Tracey had said that she would confirm (which Tracey did by email but Elly didn’t get as she has been having email problems her end) and then, started going on and on and on, over and over the same things while Tracey tried to explain her end of things. Elly did not give Tracey the courtesy of an opportunity to speak – she was simply intent on being right. I don’t know if you have ever had this experience but when you catch someone out in a lie they sometimes start to furnish you with all sorts of extraneous evidence of their honesty. Usually it is little details that sound plausible but are in fact simply more lies. I watched as Elly did this to Tracey. Every time Tracey put up an objection or offered an explanation, Elly went into ‘fact retrieval’ mode only they weren’t facts – they were just random details picked out of thin air that had nothing to do with Tracey or her circumstances. When I finally tried to diffuse the situation, Elly said ‘No!’ and continued. It was absolutely appalling. The atmosphere by the time the other women arrived was nothing short of hostile and they felt it. Elly continued to be short tempered, aggressive and rude for the rest of the evening.
Somewhere near the end of the evening, one of the other women pointed out that Elly’s watch had been one hour fast for the entire evening. When told about this, she simply altered her watch and said nothing. She must have realised right then and there that her watch being wrong meant that she had actually been at the restaurant for 2 hours (arriving at 6.30pm on her watch meant she arrived at 5.30pm in actual time). So her long waiting at the restaurant was her own fault. The fact that we didn’t spot each other was simply unfortunate and nobody’s fault. She did not do the grown up thing and admit she had made a mistake and apologise to the two of us. She simply said nothing.
I was so upset by her attack (and very adrenalised by the stress) that I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I felt angry and abused and extremely let down by the whole process. I wrote down everything I felt about the night and then sent her a very direct email the next morning. I pointed out that we had done nothing to warrant such an aggressive attack and that there was a very big difference between being direct and being aggressive, which she evidently didn’t understand. I also told her how appalled I was by her behaviour especially given her responsibility to create and hold sacred space for the group. Her response was to avoid addressing any of my points, avoid taking any responsibility for the evenings events and to continue to avoid saying sorry for her terrible behaviour. Even though she must have known she was in the wrong.
There were several lessons in all of this for me. The first and most obvious one was that I will never again sit and let someone unload their (completely unjustified) anger on me. I will get up and walk away when it becomes apparent that they are not interested in the truth, they only want to be right.
The second is that I will trust my instincts when it comes to choosing people with whom I want to sit in sacred space. This is a very important lesson. When I met Elly, she seemed like a nice lady if slightly blunt. She had a ‘this is who I am, take it or leave it’ attitude which did make me wonder. Generally, people who have this attitude, have a problem with insecurity and when you have a differing opinion to them, they can often respond in an aggressive and beligerent manner. I was right to wonder – Elly is indeed insecure and beligerent.
The third is to never, ever trust that someone’s experience or qualifications make them any kind of expert in their field. Experience and qualifications are a useful indication of someones ability but they absolutely need to be tempered with grace, kindness and compassion for them to be truly effective as teachers. I know that we are all only human and that people have good and bad days. That does not however, give people the right to spray their dissatisfaction and unhappiness onto anyone who happens to be in close range. My husband, who is very adept at getting to the heart of matters, was completely appalled by her behaviour when I explained the situation to him. When he found out how old she was and what she did for a living – he actually laughed and said, ‘Who behaves like that? What kind of life coach can she possibly be when she talks to people like that? And at her age!’
Sacred space for women is a tricky thing to hold. I know, I do it for a living. I have also been fortunate enough to sit in sacred circle with some truly amazing teachers. These teachers can be focused and forthright but I have never felt or seen them to be aggressive or ungracious with their groups. There was absolutely nothing sacred about that night. Elly isn’t capable of holding that type of space for people and, although she can be insightful, the confrontational way in which she shares these insights makes them almost impossible to access. I don’t know about Tracey but I was very clear with Elly that I would not be going back to that group.
One of the other women that was present has suggested that we meet as a group without Elly and I would be more than happy to do that – we shall see what transpires.
I know the above might seem a bit vitriolic. I am still a little angry about the incident. Not just about Elly’s behaviour but also about my own inability to stand up and walk away when something feels wrong to me. I don’t like to cause a scene and I don’t like to cause embarrassment to other people. However, as I said, the lessons contained within that awful experience were useful and I will learn from them. One day I hope to be able to maintain my grace and composure whilst still dealing with people like her. I want to be able to handle this kind of stressful situation without letting it in. Without letting it pull me off centre. A tall order I know.
Anyhoo, I said my piece – got the high handed and immature response I expected and have continued on my merry way. I only post about it here because I think its important to record the trials and the lessons on this rocky road towards enlightenment.
Here’s hoping that the next lessons will be somewhat easier.