Find Yourself a Dragon

I’m big on transparency and authenticity in communication; it cuts out a lot of second-guessing and off-track interpretation.  By transparency, I mean speak and act in a way that makes it easy for others to know what you’re thinking while respecting professional norms.  (I shouldn’t even have to say that, but there are still those who roll their eyes in meetings.)

Transparency is an especially important tool for introverts who often host a party of ideas in their head, but may appear impenetrable to others.  In the absence of obvious clues, colleagues tend to infuse the “no-response” response  with their own meaning – often incorrectly.  (Maybe I should write another article for these Guessers called If You Don’t Know, Ask: A Guide for Improving Communication Until You Perfect Telepathy.)

To be more transparent:

  • Verbalize your thought process. Don’t wait until your cerebral ducks are in a row, share imperfect but promising ideas: “I haven’t worked out the details, but I’d like to toss out Huge Great Idea and get some feedback.”
  • Let people know when you’re unsure about something. Tell them what you need. “Candidly, I’m caught off guard by this sudden change.  Can you walk me through your thinking?” or “May we regroup tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to sleep on it?”
  • Express emotions to demonstrate commitment and professional concern. I’ve seen lots of misinterpretation as outwardly expressive types assume everyone conveys passion the same way they do – exuberantly , spontaneously, and verbally.  Clue them in by saying things like “I’m so dedicated to this project and feel frustrated by the minimal attention it’s receiving.”

If transparency were a formula, it’d be:

“What’s the conversation in my head now?”

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“What would be useful for others to know?”

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“Here’s what I need to say.”

While transparency is about being in alignment with others; authenticity focuses on being in alignment with yourself.   You’re known as being authentic when your words, actions, and values overlap to present a consistent  message about who you are and what people can trust about you.  Authentic means moving through the world according to your own compass without the magnetic pull of Shoulds and Oughttas dragging you off course.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy, especially in groups.  We facilitator types have tools to help. My favorite is a fierce dragon which I discovered with my team coaching co-leader, Tascha.  This mighty mite glowers from the center of the table, challenging particpants to seize what they need from the session.  It’s a personal talisman for courage and an ally for speaking difficult things.  The dragon may also be a symbolic request for tolerance, flagging  “I’m about to say something that’s hard for me.”

oct dragonInitially people awkwardly appreciate the cute feistiness of the little guy, but no one really anticipates “needing” to use him. Eventually, someone is compelled to say something difficult and  acknowledges the dragon, even if jokingly “Wow, I probably need the dragon for this one ha ha.”  They don’t always reach for the dragon, but the comment focuses others’ attention, curiousity and often respect as this brave colleague leads  into a deeper conversation.  By the way, we do toss the dragon to anyone who mentions it; it’s easier to say something hard with the dragon’s encouragement.  We also recommend that teams who want more candor and boldness get their own talisman.

During the off hours, Fierce Dragon sits on my book shelf glaring at me, daring me to be braver in every word I write, clearer about every prioritization (you procrastinating again?)  and more direct in the conversation I’m having.

*Originally published October 2009 in Jump In newsletter.

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