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Managing Cynicism

Author: Nan Carle Beauregard

Cynicism is the enemy of possibility. Cynicism is that attitude or state of mind that portrays a general distrust in human kind. Cynicism builds walls around our hearts and diminishes our ability to relate to others respectfully and as real partners in strengthening our communities. It unfolds from a sense of suspicion about other people’s motivations and rests in a cradle of bitterness and hesitation to try something new. Messy problems stay stuck. Limitations abound.

Cynicism can be heard in the jokes we tell or in the way we speak to others. Cynicism shows through our eyes and can be felt in how we shake hands. Do we really see? Can we really touch and be touched? Are we really present? Are we really available to be in relationship with others?

The key questions are simple: 

  • How do you want to be treated? 
  • How do you want to treat others?

Inclusive leaders constantly observe to see if a cynical culture is growing in their midst. Inclusive leaders support empowerment, personal choice and real growth and development for the people they support and those that support them. All people are enabled to live into positive possibilities. Abuse of any form is not tolerated. Inclusive leaders set the conditions for solving problems and building assets so that good things can happen.

Below are 8 Strategies for Managing Cynicism as a Leader of Inclusion:

1. Listen 

Support Staff will want to say what is troubling them and where they feel stress. Listen to them to get at the deeper issues that will give clues to how you can solve the real problems together. Listen than act on what you are hearing. It is hard for cynicism to flourish when people see you are listening and acting on their concerns.

2. What’s Funny? 

What is your team laughing at? It can be easy to fall into ‘fun’ imitations of another’s speech pattern or mannerisms. Humour at someone else’s expense is not funny to them and can set up limiting expectations. Labels distance us from each other. Ask your team how you can watch your talk and stay in open, positive and respectful relationships.

3. What’s Working?

Stay focused on what is working so you can build confidence from positive realities. You get more of what you look for so look for the positive and build from there. No matter how small it may appear, a few minutes of calmness can grow to be a whole dinnertime together. Define what success looks like in your work, name it and celebrate it. Often!

4. Don’t Pretend

Nothing builds cynicism like sensing a false optimism. People are angry about not being able to do things they used to do. Some individuals may have to move to somewhere less expensive. Staff support may change. Most of us are worried about the future. Be truthful about what you can and cannot offer. Do not accept an injustice but do not say you are doing something you are not. Families and individuals can solve their own problems with good information. It is important to create the space for staff and the people you support to be open and honest.

5. Be Immediate

If you are concerned about something, do not push it under the carpet in hopes they go away – or that someone else will deal with it. Things have a way of growing out of proportion making it so much harder to change. When you see a problem – no matter how small - address it immediately. You don’t have to have the answer to bring a comment into the open or to discuss an action that is troubling. Bring it to the table so that everyone can be part of the change. This will help everyone see that words and action matter.

6. Share the News

Create the expectation of positive possibilities even in the face of hardship and economic woes. It is vital to grow positive reputations and expectations about people with learning disabilities and the staff that support them. Together we can be a force for change and for strengthening the community’s abilities to solve their own problems. Share positive examples and enable others to be part of solving messy problems. Write a blog, share good news with the press, use social media wisely for creating positive reputations.

7. Work For Your Team

Cynicism swells when managers shy away from staff and are seen to let things just happen around them. Inaction can open the door to mistrust and pessimism. Instead of your team working for you, make sure you work for your team. Create an environment where your team can do good work and where you present their concerns to the organisation. They will rise to be their best when they see that you have their best interests at heart every step of the way.

8. Keep Your Heart Open 

Inclusive leaders must be open and available to be in relationship with people and in particular with the people they are supporting. This is the hallmark of inclusion – the part that keeps our humanity in play as we move through these times of receding budgets and limiting policies. Walk with people, listen to them and respond from your heart and from a place of honesty to yourself and others about what you can offer. We can make it happen. Together.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Managing Cynicism © Nan Carle Beauregard 2016.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.