Shedding Our Masks

I have the good fortune to be able to regularly speak with a former colleague & mentor of mine. These talks are definitely mutually beneficial. I have a chance to not only enrich our friendship, but also practice what I’ve learned in my Life Skills Coaching. A recent conversation proved to be a great topic for us both to dig into – on receiving feedback and the challenges we sometimes experience due to our perceptions & behaviours.

We had been talking about challenges we’ve both experienced regarding the process of receiving feedback. There’s an aspect where we are sometimes triggered by the feedback we receive. Perhaps we interpret the feedback as particularly harsh, or maybe it reveals a behaviour that we exhibit that may not be well-received by others. In these instances, feedback is a great learning experience to understand other people’s perspectives and how our own behaviours affect those around us.

We then started talking about the feedback we sometimes receive which we may feel as vague or not especially helpful in context. “Just keep doing what you’re doing – I’m sure it’ll turn out great” – sometimes feedback like this confounds us. I know that I prefer feedback that’s more specific than this. We started wondering why we sometimes get this kind of response.

Sometimes, we just aren’t clear enough in what we’re asking for. That’s a great opportunity to listen more deeply, and then clarify what we’ve both said and heard. In many cases, this helps to continue the conversation along a path that’s beneficial & productive.

In some cases, others just don’t have the feedback ready & waiting to deliver to us. We all benefit from having some time & distance to reflect on things. Giving other people that benefit so that they may have a chance to reflect on what we’ve said is a good thing to practice. It also helps to teach us about patience and expectation.

As we continued our conversation on this topic, it led to some very interesting observations for both of us. There was a TEDx talk that my friend recommended that I watch. Here’s the link if you are interested in watching it: https://youtu.be/UUnRKf2CemA

The speaker, Michael Brody-Waite, a recovering addict, spoke about how great CEOs should adopt certain behaviours of addicts. Now, there are many nuances to this concept and the nature of these TED talks doesn’t always allow for exploring all aspects of a topic. I know for myself that there are certain aspects to his argument that would trigger me if I didn’t take the time to reflect and give the benefit of the doubt to him and the intent of his talk.

The three behaviours he mentions that keep him alive are radical authenticity, releasing the outcome, and having the difficult conversations. All three are powerful and I can see how in combination they provide a framework for countering harmful behaviours, addictions and keeping a level of focus on maintaining your balance.

The first behaviour of radical authenticity was the one that we started to dig into. Is it possible that the vague feedback we’d sometimes receive was related to this? We both looked at our behaviours in work environments. There are qualities that we share: we like challenges and will lean into them; we have a dedication to the task and commit to getting it done; work that is clearly defined & meaningful is easier for us to get behind; while we like recognition for accomplishing a job well done, it isn’t the primary driver for us; we want to be seen as reliable & dependable.

Was there something in our professional behaviour that contributed to receiving the vague feedback? We both realized at that point that we wear masks that don’t always reveal our authenticity. When we wear a mask that attempts to show someone “don’t worry, we have this under control”, that hampers the ability for someone to provide honest feedback. They may be confused by our request since it conflicts with the behaviour we’re presenting, so we get a vague response in return. They may trust us to come up with the answer by ourselves and may feel that they don’t want to interrupt our process to find that answer.

Being able to shed our masks more often allows people to see us as our more authentic selves. That way, when we make a request for help or feedback, is it seen unambiguously and helps the person we’re asking see & hear the real request we’re making. Being radically authentic takes effort, and in so many of our daily personas we’ve become used to to role we play or the mask we wear.

I have done a lot of work over the years in an attempt to be honest with myself and show up authentically no matter the context, but this was an eye-opener for me. It shows me that there is always something to learn about myself, and by being honest & authentic I have a chance to have a better, more productive & beneficial relationship with people around me.

Thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this. I hope that it has resonated with you in some way.