When you are at work, would you enjoy being able to tell your boss, or a coworker, that something doesn’t work for you and trust it will be received with appreciation, acceptance, and care?
If that notion sounds scary, you are not alone. I could feel my body tighten just imagining telling some of my previous bosses or coworkers that something they were doing or asking of me wasn’t working for me. And then, to imagine appreciation, acceptance, and care in response sounds almost like a dream, especially when I would settle for not getting fired or blowing up the relationship.
The good news is that it can be different!
Does that mean I just need to learn how to find the “perfect” boss or “perfect” work environment? No! It is not about identifying the right boss or team, as trying to control your experience by managing how others show up is a recipe for failure. Instead, it is all about how you show up and communicate, namely from a place of vulnerability and with an intention to connect. Yes, you heard me correctly. Vulnerability is essential, as it is the key to connection.
Many of us believe that we must show up at work with a tough exterior, not showing our more sensitive, personal side. While we do support using discretion with what you choose to share, that discretion is about deciding what will support connection with others.
Let’s look at an example at work where we do NOT share in vulnerability which, as you might imagine, does NOT lead to a sense of appreciation, acceptance, and care:
Boss: I need you to come in over the weekend to finish this project
You: (Your body fills with tension and anger) Why?
Boss: There was a major issue with this one account, and I am meeting with them first thing Monday morning.
You: (Thinking about the important plans you have with your daughter over the weekend that you suppress to avoid showing how upset you are right now) Okay, what time do I have to come in?
Boss: Let’s start at 8am tomorrow and Sunday and plan to work through dinner and possibly later to get it done.
You: (Resenting your boss while screaming obscenities about him/her in your head) Fine, see you tomorrow
Let’s look at the same example at work where we do share in vulnerability and see how that feels:
Boss: I need you to come into work over the weekend to help me finish this project
You: Oh boy, sounds like something big came up for you to be coming in on the weekend, are you needing more support?
Boss: Oh yeah, this account is a mess and the client is about to leave us and take his business elsewhere.
You: So you are really worried about losing the account and that business. Sounds like a lot on your shoulders. Are you open to hearing what is coming up for me?
Boss: (With a tone) Are you trying to tell me that you can’t come in over the weekend?
You: Oh, so you are worried about my intention behind sharing what is coming up in me? Maybe hard to trust that supporting you matters to me?
Boss: Just not sure, sorry, I am really stressed. Keep going.
You: Yeah, I get it. There is a ton of pressure on you. My reason for sharing is really to put all the needs on the table so that we can put our heads together on how best to meet both your needs and my needs. I am confident that if we can hold off on strategizing what to do and instead just connect around all of our needs, then we can more easily find a plan that feels wonderful to everyone. Does that sound good?
Boss: I don’t really understand what you are talking about?
You: I find the quality of connection is enhanced when we take a minute to clarify that we understand and care about what is happening in each other’s lives. In doing so, it becomes easier to find a solution that would work for both of us. It also minimizes the chances of either of us moving forward with any resentment.
Boss: How can coming in on the weekend feel wonderful to anyone? This sounds a little unusual and I have a lot to do.
You: I understand there is a lot on your plate and I don’t imagine this will take more than 5 minutes. Also, I find that if we don’t focus on connection up front, then the impact of proceeding without connection eventually leads to resentment and upset feelings, where one person suppresses their feelings and needs in order to get along. This has quite a cost in the long run where people can become unpleasant to work with or even quit. What’s more, I think we will both feel better if we invest a little extra time up front to connect. So, it feels really worth it to me. Do you think you would be willing to try it for 5 minutes?
Boss: Okay. Go ahead.
You: First, I want you to know that I feel a little nervous sharing my desire to focus on connection before we strategize. This concept of connection is something I am learning about so it is somewhat new for me. At the same time it has really made my interactions with people much better, so I value it. Anyway, naming my nervousness helps me feel more comfortable now. How is that to hear?
Boss: I get it. Don’t worry, I am fine. I appreciate your efforts.
You: Great thanks, I feel a sense of ease and greater relaxation now. Also, I really want you to trust that supporting you and this company really matters to me. Do you sense that?
Boss: Yeah, actually I can see how much effort and care you are putting into this conversation with me, so I definitely sense your care.
You: I am so happy to hear that. I also would love for you to hear how I am feeling torn about how I am going to support my kids and have integrity around my agreements with them because I currently have plans to take them to a birthday party on Saturday and the zoo on Sunday. My wish is that you can hear that this is NOT about me trying to not come in this weekend, rather it just helps me experience a sense of being heard and understood that these other agreements currently exist and are also important to me. Can you hear how both my care for you AND my care for my family are BOTH coming up for me at the same time?
Boss: Fine, don’t come in this weekend. I will find someone else.
You: Actually that doesn’t meet my needs for care and support of you and the business. If you are willing, can we hold off on deciding if I will come in or not and instead just connect around our needs here? Would you be willing to tell me if you are hearing my sincere desire to find a solution to support and care for you and the company this weekend in addition to maintaining integrity and trust with my family agreements?
Boss: Okay I hear that.
You: Great, that is so important to me. I want to find a solution that meets your need for support this weekend as well as my family’s need for care. I am open to having a discussion with my family about how best to proceed given what happened with you. I would even be open to having the discussion together to see if they have any desire to shift our plans.
Boss: And maybe I can help work around those plans too. I guess I don’t need you here at every minute of the weekend.
You: Oh wow, that feels so caring for me. I notice a sense of warmth and appreciation just from you opening up to that possibility too. I don’t even know if that is necessary but it feels great for everyone to be working together and caring about everyone’s needs here.
Boss: I think I am getting a better sense of what you mean by connection.
You: I am happy to hear that. How about I share with my family what is happening at work with this client and do some connection with them around their needs and then I circle back with you. My guess is that if they hear my care for our plans this weekend and that I am involving them in the decision on how we can support you, then they will feel more open to possible shifts too.
Boss: Yeah, this actually does feel better, lighter. I did feel tense demanding that you come in this weekend but was ignoring that.
You: I am so glad that we can build this trust and care for each other together. I will come back after I connect with my family. Thank you for your openness to exploring connection together.
Notice how it does take longer to dialogue in connection but aren’t those 5 extra minutes worth it? And think about all of the downstream effects of coming into a work team with this intention around connection instead of forcing obedience and compliance. When people submit to your authority there is a festering of resentment, dissatisfaction, and eventually turnover. The amount of time you save in the end pays for this up front investment over and over again. What’s more, it helps ensure that everyone’s Life Is Wonderful!