Is Tough Love Dead?

Written by: Alan Rodway - Your Coach Online

You will have your own notion of what tough love is … something around treating a person sternly with the intent to help them in the long run.  I believe community attitudes towards tough love have changed significantly in recent years, through political correctness and a desire for different styles.  The political correctness side of this change actually makes it difficult to write about so as to not get on the wrong side of that.  I suspect there will also be strong attitudes from readers on both sides of the tough love issue.  Below are my observations, as fairly and as objectively as I can put them.  I have to declare though that I was brought up on the tough love side of the spectrum so that will create some bias in my views below.

We need to look at the different spheres of our lives:  Family; Community; Business; Sport; Friends.  I do not believe the same trends have occurred across each of these.


It probably depends on the age group with families.  Whilst generalizations can be dangerous, I would suggest that younger parents are less inclined to give tough love than those before them.  That certainly does not suggest they care less for their children, of course it does not.  It is just a different style.  Why would (some, older generation) parents choose to give tough love then?  It would be true to suggest that a parent’s love for their own children is second to none.  So, the ‘stern’ treatment of the child is genuinely to help in the long run, of course.  Whilst younger generation parents may not choose tough love as often I am not suggesting they parent less well; they just use a softer love (which may well be just as effective or more effective).  My observations of parenting is that the softer, rational, question type approach, to altering behaviour of children and teenagers, has become the preferred method c.f. tough love, for the more important aspects of behaviour.


Somewhat of a mixed bag in sport, I think.  Just an observation but, do younger generation coaches of sporting teams show the same toughness in straightening up behaviour of their team members with wording that is different, not as harsh, but that wording does not reduce the toughness of the messaging?  I have seen that in action.  Powerful and tough messaging that does not sound as tough as it used to years ago.  Maybe that is way more skilful?  The reverse is the older generation coaches (and team members) who have stuck to the more traditional tough love but I have seen that not wash with some younger team members who are not used to it and don’t respond well to it.


I will preface this again that this is but an observation as well as a generalisation but I think tough love in the community is almost dead.  Political correctness has all but killed it off (rightly or wrongly).  I know many people who will not attempt to change the behaviour of others with tough love or can’t because they don’t have the wording skills to do it appropriately.  Unfortunately, that can stymie them into making no attempt to alter behaviours at all.  Is it possible to give tough love at community level and stay on the right side of political correctness?  Surely it is.  Maybe it is a matter of upskilling behaviourally and with wording to be able to do so, rather than not giving tough love.


I have no doubt that tough love in business has reduced significantly over recent years.  My own opinion of that is that it is a pity.  Referring back to the previous paragraph, tough love should not be avoided (because I am one who believes it is necessary at times, for the sake of the person receiving it and team members around them) because of political correctness, inability to find the right words or lack of skill in delivering the messages.  It should be given in ways that work effectively.  I have been careful in this article to remain as objective as I can but on this one I witness a lack of tough love to straighten up behaviour, help people overcome hesitation and fears, and to help people develop to their full potential.  I think the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.  It is incumbent on those who believe in tough love to find the right ways of delivering it rather than avoiding it.   Tough love has a place in guiding and helping other people.  It should be used selectively, even rarely, but it does have its place.  Some people in the younger generations, those more sensitive to how messages are delivered and those who have always resisted tough love, would benefit from this tool of influence sometimes and it is a shame for them to miss out.  The motive of tough love must always be clear to the person receiving it … it is to help you, not to hurt you.  When the context is clear and the motive is trusted, the impacts for the recipient can be significant.

Why have I spent time writing all this?  Because I want the instrument of tough love to remain, for the right reasons, in skillful ways.  My experience in my own life is that when I’ve been shown tough love (by my parents, other family members, business colleagues, sports team members, community members) it has definitely straightened me up.  I may not have liked it at the time, may have even disliked how it was delivered to me, but I can testify to its positive impact on my behaviour and my life.  So I am encouraging a place for tough love, effectively delivered.

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