A few weeks ago, I took a course on conflict and communication. We discussed the varying levels of communication expounded upon in the book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?. As I sat there and listened, I began to think more broadly about areas where people find themselves vulnerable (even exposed), particularly in social contexts.
Here are three areas where we might find ourselves feeling socially naked in our work and in our relationships.
1. Proposing an Idea at Work
You might be the sort of person who has a million ideas. For you, there is little hesitancy in sharing them and maybe a less personal investment whether the idea is received well or simply disregarded. For others, there has been careful consideration and a tentative plan has been created. When you propose this idea in a team meeting or to your boss, in either a formal or informal way, you feel vulnerable.
Those next few moments after you finish speaking before they respond seems like everyone is staring you down. It feels like they are examining you and making value judgments about you as a person. Proposing or sharing an idea makes you an easy target for people to discount and disregard your idea. But for you, the idea felt like a part of you and the wounds feel like personal attacks. Sometimes their critique is fair and helpful. At other times, their criticism is bitter, vague, or deeply personal.
When you propose an idea, remember that not every idea is a good one or even the right time to share it. Take their feedback and evaluate it to improve your idea. However, don’t allow their criticism to dictate how you will interact with others and live the rest of your life.
When someone proposes an idea to you, remember that not everything you are thinking needs to be said. This person may have spent a few minutes to a few months planning this presentation or refining this idea. Take some time to carefully choose words that will be productive for the individual, both professionally and personally. Provide honest critique and ask honest questions but the goal is to make that person feel valued, heard, and appreciated. If your team lacks ideas and creativity, perhaps it has less to do with the people you hired and more to do with your response when people have proposed ideas.
2. Asking someone on a Date
I can remember asking my now wife out on our first date. We were walking back from the gym and I observed the subtleties of the pavement as I couldn’t quite bear to look her in the eyes. I was nervous and excited. However, this was not my first time to ask someone out or express interest in a girl.
In high-school, I took a girl out and asked if she would be interested in talking more intentionally as she went to college. As we prepared to leave the restaurant, she gave me a gentle but clear “No.” I received a few more “No’s” along the way in high-school and college. Most of them were kind and gracious in their response, but clear nonetheless.
When you ask someone out and they say “No” to the first date or even later in the relationship, it feels personal. We put ourselves out there and were told that someone did not want to get to know us any more. They have seen some version of us and decided that there was no reason to continue that process of getting to know each other.
Whether you are asking someone out, being asked out, or around those in those situations, remember that this is a vulnerable place. Pain and insecurities are lurking in the shadows. If you receive a “No” and aren’t sure why, you may ask for further clarification but only if you want to hear what they have to say. If you are asking why they won’t go out with you and your tone and mannerism are defiant, then you will likely receive a stinging response that are meant to end the war before it begins. It does not justify their response but you were not likely to hear what they were saying anyway.
If you are asked on a date, remember that person feels vulnerable in that moment. They have let down their guard and handed you a knife. You may be gentle and clear saying “No” to their request. If they ask to know why and you increasingly feel uncomfortable in that moment or defensive, it is acceptable to reply with, “I’m not in a good place to respond to that question right now. Can I take some time to gather my thoughts and then answer your question?” This is not an escape method to avoid the question (though you think it could be). Rather, this time is the onramp toward honest and helpful for their good of others and their ultimate growth.
Both proposing an idea and asking someone on a date leaves us feeling vulnerable. In those times, we might feel like it would be easier (even better) to be actually naked than to have our idea or affection rejected, delayed, or ignored. It feels like a little bit of us was not good enough. To be clear, I am not advocating public nudity in any way and if you know me, then you know that would be last thing I would propose. However, there is a third area that can leave us feeling socially exposed (naked) and it will be the subject of our next post.