Uncomfortable Truths

We’ve all been there; the long, protracted business discussion Business Secretabout a topic that once held the passion of everyone in the room. After repeated conversation, and pressure-testing that renders the original idea sterile and weakened, everyone agrees to go ahead. Why? Because the room is tired and we’re doing something positive, right?

Before I hear reaction from people who don’t work for companies that resemble this model, let me say this: I’ve been in enough corporate settings to know that this happens more than it should. And that is unfortunate.

Gianpiero Petriglieri, in an HBR blog posted on March 5 entitled “Why Work is Lonely,” talks about the corporate disease of “violent politeness.” It’s a condition he describes as a “cocktail of deference, conformity and passive aggression that chokes people and teams,” a cultural habit of staying silent when one is rising up the ladder and remaining silent at the top. Petriglieri observes that it creates a kind of psychological loneliness characterized by the disconnection between speaking one’s voice and protecting one’s image.

It hit me hard. I had seen so much of the stuff during my corporate career that I began to wonder if I carried forward a form of it in terms of how I view my own progress. Am I being honest enough to admit that at times I get worried about the future, about my ability to consistently gain new clients or my ability to manage a growing enterprise?

In my last blog, Career Exercises I discussed a transformational moment I had during the Wisdom 2.0 conference, a moment where I saw the direction I want to take my business. A few weeks later I am here, blogging about twinges of fear and doubt. I know, intellectually, that to be an entrepreneur or a leader or even an evolving human being requires risk and its sidekicks, vulnerability and fear. It’s just that these sidekicks can make you feel so damn uncomfortable.

My uncomfortable truth is a fear of not appearing hyper successful all the time. A crazy standard, I know. I have no doubts about my technical skills, my client skills, my business development skills. I do have an unfounded concern that I am not hitting it out of the park every chance at bat. I felt this twinge of doubt at lunch with a colleague of mine. It wasn’t anything he said or did, it was me thinking that my progress report was not robust enough. Robust enough for me, not him.

But this vulnerable feeling, this feeling of discomfort, is not unusual at all. What is unusual is putting it out there, refusing to think that honesty is a dumb strategy. Talking about fears that spring from taking risks are often glossed over, a footnote to the overall story of risk, reward and ultimate success. But they are real and they exist. Giving voice to whatever the fear is, no matter how unfounded it may be, doesn’t make one unsuccessful. It makes one relatable and, ultimately, more grounded and able to accept the contradictions that underlie any situation.

The transcendent Brené Brown is the godmother of admitting our doubts and our vulnerability. She is worth getting to know for she pushes aside violent politeness to reveal that truth and courage are uncomfortable and necessary.  Brené encourages us to admit our discomfort and to go so far as to make it part of how we stay honest with ourselves and with each other.

Such openness is not a skill I learned during my formal education and especially during my former work life. True openness was rare, reserved for an unguarded moment and only with one or two people I really, really, really trusted. Yet to admit that sometimes you don’t have the answer or you wonder about the future is a real strength. It is in the act of questioning that we bring ourselves closer to the answer that will stick.

What about you, whether you are an entrepreneur, a corporate warrior or any other kind of working professional – what are you afraid of speaking aloud? What are you not voicing due to “violent politeness?” The more uncomfortable the truth, the more valuable it is to speak it clearly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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