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Why You Should Invite People to Show Their True Personalities

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Why You Should Invite People to Show Their True Personalities

In open and inclusive cultures, where team members show their true personalities, we see stronger work relationships and higher performance.

I vividly remember the last evening of high school. We knew we might never see each other again. The risk of saying something controversial and then living with the consequences was gone. So under the summer sky, my mates and I finally asked each other some difficult questions and expressed truths that had been suppressed for years. … ‘Why are you avoiding me?’ The answer which came surprisingly quickly is burnt into my memory.

Many of us shared secrets and deep feelings and confessed loving or painful thoughts for the first time. Words were flowing effortlessly. We felt more connected than ever.

I also felt some regret. We would have spent a very different four years together, had we reached this level of honesty and openness while we were still school mates. We could have repaired broken friendships.

As teenagers, we were certainly making life quite complicated for ourselves in order to feel safe and accepted. So what’s changed since we became older and wiser? The way I see it, not a lot. Many of us have carried our insecurities into our working lives.

Thus history repeats. On several occasions, I had fascinating conversations with colleagues about delicate topics we both felt passionate about, only days before a final goodbye. The connection between us grew stronger, as our working relationship was about to end. Yet again, I wished I could have turned back time.

‘How much personality should I bring to my professional life? And what problems and passions should I leave at home?’

These questions have followed me throughout my career. They sound rather trivial, but here is my conundrum. I don’t feel comfortable raising these issues with colleagues unless I already have their permission to get personal.

As I recall, almost every single business leader I’ve ever talked to about this subject wants to create – or maintain – a workplace culture of transparency and authenticity. They want people to work with enthusiasm, and to have a strong sense of connection with their peers and the business.

However, in my experience, many leaders who are trying to encourage their people to show their true personalities actually fail to give them sufficient attention, support, and a safe space.

For example, I have a natural tendency to blur the boundaries between my professional and private personas. I also enjoy drawing solutions to work-related problems from my personal interests and side projects. However, in some environments, this approach to work raised eyebrows, and my ideas were seen as too ‘far out’.

One one hand, I was invited to express more of my personality, and on the other, I was expected to fit their mould. If you’d ever like to alienate a team member, this is how you do it.

These days I’m more careful with my choices.

I’m consciously looking for clients and business partners who are genuinely curious about the people they work with, and want to develop friendly, caring relationships at work. They want to have relaxed, engaging and insightful conversations, knowing that it’s not just a nicer way to work, but also good for the whole team as well as the business.

In open and inclusive cultures, where team members show their true personalities and express themselves freely and honestly, we see stronger work relationships and higher performance. We see greater trust, commitment and cohesion, as well as more flowing communication and collaboration. Members work more productively and innovate and solve problems better. And by the way, they also love their work more.

However, not everyone can drop their guard and open up, just because they are invited to do so. We all have a colourful personal history, with a fair amount of conditioning to overcome.

I certainly find it challenging to show more of my personality on cue. I actually have a humorous, cheeky side, which my close friends and family see a lot of. However, expressing my playful nature in professional settings doesn’t always come naturally to me.

This is a pity because I know it would improve my communication and relationships with my clients and audience. (In fact, I started to write this article with the intention of making it a playful and fun read, and I feel I’ve failed spectacularly. I’m writing at home, alone – I might add.)

So instead of some witty jokes, I’d like to share a few ideas about helping your people to show their true personalities.

  • A social and friendly environment can work miracles. People tend to be more open and in their element when catching up with likeminded mates and bouncing ideas and jokes off each other. (This works for me too, so I tend to be more cheeky and audacious around people on a similar wavelength.)
  • A comfortable, safe and nurturing place make it easier for everyone to relax and forget their concerns about what could go wrong. This is why people tend to act more naturally in casual conversations, especially in informal settings.
  • Where there is honesty and authenticity, people crack more jokes, and you hear more laughter. And the reverse is also true – in an environment that embraces humour and laughter, people tend to express themselves more honestly and authentically.
  • Playing creates an open state of mind. A good game turns your attention away from what could go wrong towards what could go right. It expands your thinking and entices you to push boundaries. Through playing, you can often get to know people – and yourself – better than through disciplined work.

So here is a quick recipe.

Step 1. Encourage your team members to chat, play games, crack jokes and laugh. Step 2. Create an environment that sends the right messages – one that is social, relaxed, playful and fun.

Are you concerned that your team might take work less seriously, as a result? You’re more likely to find that they get more done, and propel your business further, with a heightened work ethic. (I’ll write more on these topics later.)

And when the sad day comes for one of your team members to move on, you won’t be saying goodbye with a sense of regret. Because you won’t be wondering how things could have been different if you’d each allowed the other to see your true selves.

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