Experiences, explorations, and insights.
Common Mistakes in Self Management: Avoiding Authenticity
Most of us have learned to avoid directly communicating about our experiences and perspectives. We rarely speak about our lived and emotional experience in a moment and we have trained ourselves not to respond to or move from our embodied feelings. We’ve learned to value ideas that are presented as universal, and dismiss contributions that are transparently drawn from our personal experiences of life. We often talk to share ideas or argue, but rarely to stitch together an embodied connection that allows us to feel present, whole, and nourished. When we are in these patterns, very few of us feel whole, joyful, or safe.
This drama plays itself out in “professional” contexts where we have learned to deify our intellects and degrade our emotions, our intuitions, and our subjective experiences of the world. We argue and jockey for position without ever really talking about the emotional and egoic processes that we are playing out. The more we attach to our perspectives as if they were true and objective, the tougher the time we have receiving each other’s feedback when it challenges our beliefs about ourselves and the world; and we have a really hard time giving feedback if we feel like the person won’t receive it well. This often leaves us feeling disconnected, unseen, and disempowered.
This stifled and depersonalized communication is a beloved bedfellow of hierarchy. Hierarchy reinforces this pattern of communication; and over time we often come to accept it as normal and even stop registering the harm its causing.
The primary way hierarchy encourages us to communicate and relate inauthentically is pretty simple: The person underneath on the hierarchy silences themselves or alters their expression in order to appease the person above them because of a real or perceived threat of retribution; and the person above uses the mask of authority to avoid being fully truthful about what is going on inside them thereby avoiding the emotional vulnerability that accompanies truth.
Everyone becomes reluctant to communicate what’s really going on inside of them because we fear we will be judged as emotional, weak, or unsure. This keeps large portions of reality and ourselves out of the public sphere, leaving us with fractured experiences of ourselves as we clumsily navigate dynamics that we refuse to name. If this system is truly successful it will convince us that we are bad because of our emotions, delusional because of our perception of things that are outside “acceptable communication,” inept because we don’t naturally fit within the prescribed boundaries, or a burden because we care about things that have been deemed irrelevant by the dominant system we live in.
We have been living in a system that alienates us from our truth in the name of objectivity, and severs us from our selves in the name of professionalism.
Self-management requires a new way. We need to communicate with a new level of authenticity, and we need to communicate about things we have learned not to talk about. This is hard. And it’s absolutely necessary. If we step into a new org structure without also learning to communicate authentically about our experience as we do, we will fail because we will remain disconnected for ourselves and each other.
We are trying to design systems where people can show up as their full selves. We need to be able to talk about whether or not that’s happening. We need to be able to give and receive feedback about how we are making that process easier or harder for each other.
We are trying to design systems that intentionally distribute power. We need to be able to talk about how we are empowering and disempowering each other. We need to talk about our own internal journeys toward stepping into our power. We need to talk about how structures impact those journeys, and how we can support each other.
We are trying to create spaces where people feel a sense of belonging and emotional security. We need to be able to share how we are feeling and what we need, and be received with skillful compassion.
This process will bring conflict. It will bring to light conflicts that have been happening under the surface of our organizations for along time. It will generate new conflicts as we encourage people to bring more of their passion, vision, and values to work. We may as well embrace it.
Conflict is an unavoidable part of life. The moment we invite people authentically share their experiences and perspectives we realize that experiences are different and perspectives contradict. When we are attached to our own experiences and perspectives as the only truth, or rely on them to create a sense of stability, the presence of difference feels like a threat. When we invite people to share their emotions and the impacts our behavior is having on them, we often feel a bunch of our own emotions in response. When we welcome an awareness of the subtle dynamics, patterns, and structures we are all embedded in we see ourselves in new and challenging ways. When we invite the light of truth, we will see our shadow, and we often get reactive when that happens.
But when we walk humbly, listening with our hearts, honoring difference and complexity, welcoming challenge as a path to growth, holding ourselves and each other in dignity and compassion then conflict becomes an earthquake that gives rise to mountains from which we see a new world. This is the space of authentic communication, the space of togetherness and belonging. And it tends to bring up a lot for all of us.
Trying to create an environment where people feel truly present and valued as co-creators of the community just invites more conflict. And that’s a good thing.
Existing structures and communication norms encourage individuals to stay silent about the harms they experience as the hands of other people and systems; while those who cause harm remain in the illusion that those impacts are not happening. As long as this is happening, no one is whole and the system is not learning and evolving.
Stewing conflicts hold the potential energy for change and growth. Discomfort and tension hold the wisdom that something wants to change, and something new wants to emerge. Our old structures push these things down and tell people that individuals, not systems, need to change. In response, we need to create systems that invite us to bring these discomforts to the public sphere we can learn about how to create better systems, cultures, and communities. And when we learn that a discomfort really is more about the individual’s personal emotional journey than it is about the systems need for change, we need to honor that person and find a way to support their inner growth.
This is a big ask. It’s asking us to be more emotionally honest and exposed than we are used to. It’s asking us to live in a way that has been unsafe for many of us. It’s asking us to show up and be met as unique individuals, with unique perspectives, quirks, needs, insights, wounds, fears, patterns and gifts. It’s asking us to be real with ourselves and each other as we navigate that terrain. It’s asking us to open ourselves up, knowing that there will be conflict. And its asking us to see engaging in conflict compassionately, humbly, and strongly as a process that contributes to our evolution as individuals and groups
We need to be deeply and courageously authentic in order to skillfully navigate everything that comes up as we start to make fundamental changes to the way we relate to one another. We need to accept that this is a growing edge for most people on Earth, especially those socialized in dominant American culture. We need to build cultures, implements practices, and design spaces that help people step into this way. And it’s not just for the sake of helping people feel good at work (though for me, that would be enough), it’s a requirement for us to be able to function as groups, do good work in the world, and be healthy human beings.