Are You Suppressing Your True Self at Work?
Beatrice Affaki • July 12, 2016
We often hear people say "fake it till you make it". Although it might work at some level, to what extent do people have to fake it to actually make it? And what truth lies behind this image of success?
I recently conducted a survey and interviewed managers and top executives working in different fields and the results were fascinating. One of the main questions I asked was: what are the main obstacles you currently face?
The following summarizes the top three.
1) KEEPING IT REAL
In today’s competitive workplace, most people find it difficult to truly be themselves.
Behind their image of success lies a bundle of fears: fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of being discovered, fear of looking bad and being judged, fear of making mistakes, fear of betrayal, fear of being rejected, fear of conflicts, fear of getting old and/or being replaced by the younger generation, etc.
Those who fear becoming an easy prey, build a protective armor, a false self, and act as lions when inside they often feel as small as a mouse. Showing any sign of vulnerability or emotions is often perceived as a weakness and people spend much energy covering up who they are and pretending to be what they feel others expect them to be. They often feel stuck between trying to please their boss as well as their subordinates. Many people find it difficult to remain themselves and to respect their values while still conforming to the company’s culture and all its policies and practices.
Although reaching the top of the corporate ladder is an extraordinary accomplishment for them, some admit feeling a void and they often ask themselves: who have I become? Is this really what I wanted for myself? Am I doing what I truly want to do? Now what? Many admit that repressing their true selves has been very costly and has had negative impacts on both their professional and personal lives as well as their overall health. They feel strong feelings of frustration, anger, demotivation, emptiness and some even feel a deep sense of unhappiness. Some admit that their health has deteriorated quickly over the years and that bottled up emotions is one of the main causes.
Although trust is the key to any solid foundation, whether personal or professional, it is, for most people, a huge challenge. How can people fully trust others when they are incapable of truly being transparent and real themselves?
The protective shield people use to cover up their fears makes it very difficult for them to really trust others. Many say that the lack of trust impacts their relationship with their coworkers, bosses, subordinates, clients, and even their relationship with their loved ones. Despite what they project, the focus has become more toward protecting their own interest out of fear and less about helping others grow and move up the corporate ladder. Although they try to hide it, other people’s success is a threat to them.
Managing employees and building real connections with people efficiently without being able to fully trust is, for many, extremely difficult and truly exhausting. Some people micromanage and have a hard time delegating tasks, either out of fear of losing control, losing the spotlight or out of fear of looking bad if anything goes wrong. As soon as others do not meet their expectations or make a mistake, it immediately confirms that they cannot be trusted.
People’s inability to trust makes communication a huge challenge for them. Many people mention having a very hard time communicating in a real and transparent way.
In order to avoid any discomfort or conflict, many people do not say what they truly mean and suppress their opinions, feelings and/or ideas and try to conform in order to fit the mold and not risk being an outsider. Giving accurate feedback (both positive and negative) and confronting difficult employees represent a huge challenge for many.
Top managers and executives' inability to express themselves creates a ripple effect on the rest of the company and an environment of distrust and lack of transparency slowly establishes. People find it very difficult to work in such an environment and feel frustrated and demotivated. It often becomes a vicious circle that is extremely hard to break.
People mention that their inability to communicate truthfully at work is also reflected in many ways in their personal relationships.
At what age or stage in one’s life should people start becoming true to themselves and start removing their protective shield? Most people wait until they are sick or going through a crisis to show their true selves and express themselves fully. Although confronting our fears requires moving out of our comfort zone, everyone owes it to themselves to take that step, be authentic and live to their full potential.
Individuals as well as companies are suffering more and more from lack of transparency and poor communication. It is definitely time for everyone to start dealing with the core problems instead of wasting time continuously focusing on the symptoms.
A shift must be made and the best place to start is within ourselves. It is definitely time for everyone to remove their protective shield, live their truth and create the life they want.