Sharing feelings and being vulnerable: Happy 2017!

More regular blogs on this website. More Newsletters. Just some of the goals I have set myself for 2017.

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I start the year with a reflection on a training I gave end of last year for a bank in London. The management team of this bank gathered for 2 x 2 days in a beautiful conference center in Ware, north of London. In this training, we use a model for effective influencing that uses 3 dimensions:

  • The I-dimension: when influencing in this dimension, you take responsibility and take position, and clearly state your opinion, request, promise or argue. It is the dimension where ‘I’ take stage, and make myself heard.
  • The you-dimension: here you park your own agenda, and commit to fully understand the point of view of somebody else. By asking questions and intently and intensely listening to the answers, you learn.
  • The we-dimension: in this dimension we share. We build connection between the two of us, and put an open and honest, human relationship central stage. This is where we share feelings, disclose needs and connect.

When introducing the we-dimension in this recent training, I gave a real-life example of ‘sharing feelings’. I shared the insecurity I sometimes feel when introducing this model, and being questioned by the audience on the validity and applicability of the model. Although I feel comfortable with the model and I know it inside out, moments of hesitation and insecurity are well-known to all of us. And sometimes when heavily questioned by an audience I doubt.

A participant in the training responded to my openness. He stated that perhaps I should not be doing this job any longer. He argued that a trainer who doubts his own models should be in another job. That I should choose a different career path. This unexpected reaction from a participant caused discomfort in the room (how will the trainer respond?), discomfort with the fellow-participants (who felt this personal attack was unfair, and certainly also ‘un-English’) and discomfort with me, as I felt I had to choose an appropriate response.

I decided to continue my explanation of the we-dimension, using this quite personal attack as an example. I explained that sharing feelings in the workplace – although it often leads to openness and trust – brings a risk as well. By sharing feelings and opening up, you put yourself in a vulnerable position, that others can take advantage of in a negative way. Sharing feelings (and by the way: there is nothing soft about that!) puts yourself in a vulnerable position, inevitably. A position that others can choose to take advantage of, for whatever reason.

vulnerability

It doesn’t make me weaker at all I think: when the emotions are honest and not made-up, they are a true reflection of what is going on for me at that moment. This is often happiness, confidence and enjoyment, and sometimes this is sadness, insecurity and doubt.

What followed was a long discussion with the group on this state of vulnerability, and whether it belongs in the workplace. I learned from this discussion, just as much as participants did. At the same time, it made the bankers strongly and rationally argue that emotions and feelings should not be acknowledged in the workplace. And it opened up a few of the participants to take the opposite position, and state that what their work place needs so much is this ‘we-dimension’ in which we can openly discuss what’s going on for us.

 

I realized afterwards that this is what separates leadership from management as well. Where management is the rational process of efficiently and effectively organizing the work, leadership is more intangible. It involves vision, passion, feeling and emotion.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t say leadership is an irrational process. Rational arguing and decision-making should be at the basis of business processes all the time. The presence of human emotions in complementary. Sharing doubt and expressing honest feelings does not subtract, but rather adds to the rational processes that govern our work. The openness that is created helps to build trust. Good decision-making relies on expressing doubts, sharing your reservations and displaying enthusiasm, just as much as it relies on clear arguing, logic and cause-and-effect reasoning.

hanbury-manor-insideBack to the training room in London, where trainer and participants learned a lot about how to deal with the combination of rational arguing and sharing emotions. The result of my openness was openness: an open discussion about whet their workplace needs to improve their business processes.

Let’s make 2017 a year where we do not talk about extremes and polarize (tough, rational processes on one hand, and very soft, irrational emotions on the other hand), but where we see nuance and see things as complementary. When we take extreme positions and argue with ratio and logic, let’s complement that with expression of doubt, nuance and true, honest emotion. I believe many political and societal debates will benefit from this as well in 2017.

Happy New Year!!

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