Why always pretending we are fine (when we are clearly not) is bad for us…and worse for the company?
So you are exhausted, and indeed, you look exhausted.
You have spent the last three weeks finishing way too late (including on weekends), working on “whatever you do” to deliver on time, and according to the deadline. A deadline, you knew since day one, was unrealistic.
But you didn’t say anything. No, correction, you said: “It will be fine”…and, worse, you even smiled.
And here you are, exhausted.
You know that your work is not as good as you wanted it to be, but what to do? You had to take obvious shortcuts to meet the damn deadline. You are preoccupied it will be noticed though.
You wonder more and more how long you will be able to continue like this. You feel demotivated. You would like to spend more time with your family. You feel like you could sleep for days.
In truth, you feel like shit.
And then, you meet your manager in the corridor who asks you cheerfully ”How are you doing today?”
You automatically reply: ”I am fine, thank you!” hoping your tone was colorful enough.
And you even smile back. Obviously.
You are hiding what you really feel. Obviously.
How many times have we felt this way?
How many times we were sinking inside but we were pretending everything was just perfectly awesome with glitter and pink unicorns flying all around us?
Well, I know that I did exactly that in the past. And a lot!
But what else are we supposed to do? It is WORK! And as everybody knows we cannot simply tell the truth and express our feelings at WORK!
We always have to pretend everything is fine. We have to show that we are on top of everything. We have to always be positive and energetic! We simply have to.
What will others think of us otherwise? If we show any sign of weakness, fatigue or doubt, we know deep down know it will be bad for our career. If we show any vulnerability, we will most certainly be judged by others or even be rejected.
So, we smile even more despite the intense feeling growing in us.
And this is wrong. Totally wrong!
What if I told you that in some companies, meetings will start by hearing each one of the attendees expressing how they feel? Not only that, but also expressing openly, in turns, what’s present in their mind, and what do they feel in their body? And they will share all this very honestly!
Sounds totally insane?
Some may think, ”We are not part of a hippy community forming a love circle here, we are doing business! And why on earth would they do that?”
Oh, they are not hippies and the reason is simple: to connect, to reinforce their relationships and understand where everyone is.
And more importantly, to create an atmosphere of trust between them.
Anyone who worked in a company knows that “trust” is the essential component for any company’s success and long term viability.
Without trust internal conflicts and divisions arise, collaboration becomes scarce, defiance spreads, productivity suffers and time & energy are wasted to solve minor issues.
Without trust, costly control mechanisms are put in place, more processes are produced, autonomy is reduced and, as a consequence, engagement drops.
Without trust, change and transformation initiatives fail, communication becomes inefficient and critical information are not shared.
Trust is essential. Trust is vital for companies.
And do you think we create trust when we are hiding or not showing up as we really feel?
We may think that we have excellent acting skills because we have played Peter Pan in 4th Grade, but the truth is we are not fooling anyone. Just like “bad” managers don’t fool us when they hide things, embellish the situations or promise stuff they don’t intend to deliver.
Because it shows! Of course it shows.
See, we are all physiologically wired to pick up cues (body language, facial expression, tone…) and to evaluate how genuine others are. We are sort of living lying detectors and very efficient ones. And when we are deliberately masking how we feel, our colleagues just know, because it shows!
By not telling the truth, we create a separation and distance with others. Even if it is something as “little” as hiding how we feel.
So what happens then? Our boss and colleagues will offer the same fake smile in return.
Suspicion starts. Walls are erected. Factions are formed. Gossips spread. And in the end, we all carry this heavy armor.
We usually say:” I don’t show my true self at work”
How can we efficiently work together then if everyone remains that closed?
But when we are honest, something else happen.
When we stop pretending, we first acknowledge what’s inside of us.
We become self-aware, and, as a direct consequence, we develop our emotional intelligence. We can now notice important information that can support us.
When we share our feelings, we connect with others at deeper level. We create solid bonds and true relationships.
Others see us for who we are. We are genuine. We are ourselves. There’s no separation.
As we open up, we release the tension we have accumulated.
And something really fascinating happens: we also give permission to others to express themselves too. We create a virtuous circle where open and honest communication is flowing.
Suddenly, everyone is sharing.
Moreover, we also give permission to others to offer their help. Now, instead of feeling alone and secluded, something can be done about it collectively. As a team!
We are finding a solution as a team operating on the basis of respect and care.
By being authentic, we generate an environment of trust.We infuse this vital element that the company needs: trust.
Ok, at this point, you may think it is totally illusory to be that open in your company.
You just cannot imagine telling what you really feel to your colleagues without picturing explosions, shouting, screaming and the HSE department distributing kevlar vests to the entire office.
If it is the case, what does it tell you about your company then?
If we you are not able to share your feeling because you fear it will be used against you, what does it tell you about your company’s culture?
How much do you enjoy it? And how different will it be for you if you could be open? If you could be yourself?
Allowing to express what you feel without judgment and repercussion is one of the most important indicator on how evolved your organization is.
How much your company values the people inside and wants to cultivate healthy relationships.
Evolved organizations welcome and encourage authenticity in the workplace because they know it is the source of collaboration, creativity, engagement and trust.
They also know that carrying constantly this armor and upbeat fake smile wear everyone down, everyone and the company.
Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organization talks about the concept of “Wholeness”. Being whole at work is one of the competitive advantage organization will have to cultivate.
So let’s drop the armor, shall we? And I guess I can start.
I can tell you for instance that I feel, most of the time, overwhelmed and worried since I’ve decided to work for myself. I’ve had some difficulties to sleep (even had some intense nightmares) until very recently. Some days, I experience serious doubts I will be able to make it as an entrepreneur. But I also strongly believe in what I do and more than ever committed to support companies with their evolution.
So that’s me.
So tell me, what about you? How do you really feel?
(Word of caution: it is without saying we need to express our feeling and emotions skillfully! We cannot simply start to pour our heart out overnight in the workplace. It takes time, work and support to create a culture of trust in companies. But when you get there, oh how different it is then!)