Last week I started to share about the differences between team debriefing and team introspection. The former being quite straightforward and directly connected to an observable performance as the latter being a deeper exploration of more relational issues in an organisation or team.
Both are about facing reality or truth, but some truths are scarier than others.
When working with engineers, I've always enjoyed their thirst for understanding about how things work and getting to the root cause of an issue. The paradox being that while they are very comfortable exploring technical truths of why something doesn't work or is not efficient enough, they are often not equipped to tackle "human" issues. Not for lack of intellectual capacity but emotional ones. And that is true for other professions too, as I have discovered time and time again in the corporate world. And this is what lead me to reflect about why that is.
The kind of truths that are revealed during team introspection, while tackling relational issues at work or simply trying to understand complex dynamics in any organisation, are making people feel a range of emotions from a slight discomfort, to terror. Why? Because they become vulnerable, exposed for who they are as human beings.
Vulnerability is not usually a value in the workplace, it is seen as a weakness, especially in technical professions. And if you look at the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you understand that it is something to be avoided.
So while many thinkers, researchers, coaches, consultants and trainers, like Brené Brown, are now promoting the practices of vulnerability at work, we still have to understand why it is so difficult for employees and their managers to implement.
1) When a corporate culture is heavily biased towards masculinity, it tends to encourage competition and hero-like behaviours. Showing vulnerability and "weakness" is hence not recommended, or not socially acceptable.
2) When trying to evolve in the organisation, through numerous assessments, competency evaluations, hierarchical recommendations, performance reviews, etc. one tends to want to show their best selves, to make the best possible impression and hide anything that would darken the picture.
3) Most people are not trained to have difficult conversations nor to handle diversity of perspectives, beliefs and values. So going against the grain, showing we are not comfortable with a decision, warning about overburdening, complaining, saying "no" without having to justify, or sharing about personal difficulties, are not easy things to do.
4) While in a position of power, of leadership or management, many believe that they have to put on a brave face, to shoulder all the responsibilities of that team, and often are very quiet about the tension and stress they are under. Some do not share this with team out of consideration for them ("I don't want to overburden them, I want to protect them") and some out of protection of their position ("I don't want them to know I find it difficult to cope"). Either way the leader feels very alone, and doesn't seek the support they need.
And I could continue with the list. The key theme is that fear is making people hide the truth of who they are, what they feel, and what is going on. Whether it's the fear of rejection, fear of judgement, fear of negative consequence for others, themselves or their career, fear of criticism, fear of not being loved or appreciated... Understanding that fear in the workplace is the root cause of the lack of authenticity, is hence the start for finding new strategies for corporate culture shifts:
"How can we create safer work environment in which people can share authentically and openly about their vulnerabilities so that we can address the truths of our organisations and grow our people and our business?"