One of the leadership dimensions that often gets marked lowest on 360 assessments is the one related to “disclosing information about self.”
When reviewing assessment results with coaching clients, I have noticed that those who are rated low on this trait are often confused.
Either they think they are pretty open and transparent and don’t understand why they were rated low. Or they don’t understand why they are even being measured on this dimension because they don’t see it as an important leadership trait.
Don’t underestimate self-disclosure as a leadership trait.
Self-disclosure is an important leadership trait because it relates directly to trust. The more open a person seems, the greater they are trusted. Consider the effect of not understanding this attribute on Al Gore’s presidential bid. He couldn’t win the hearts of his constituents because many of them felt he was too “tightly wrapped,” and therefore not authentic. Research shows that “skillful self-disclosure can humanize the leader, creating connections between the leader and followers that increase feelings of trust and intimacy, and, in an organizational context, a readiness to work together collaboratively to reach mutual task goals.”
Self-disclosure does not mean baring it all.
Self-disclosure begins by simply making ‘I” statements – by taking ownership for your thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to bare your soul and share your deepest, darkest fears and secrets.
All you have to do is simply share what you are experiencing in response to what is happening in the moment. You might think you are already doing that. And, you might be among the many people who are surprised when they are rated low on this leadership trait.
Often people think they are sharing their thoughts and feelings, but are not taking ownership for them.
4 ways you might be annoying people by not be taking ownership for your thoughts and feelings.
1. Speaking for no one.
When you refer to people in general, you are speaking for no one. For example, statements like, “Anyone would be embarrassed by that situation,” or “Most people are afraid to get angry.” There is no way to know if these statements are even true. And you leave people confused as to where you stand. If you are trying to communicate how you feel, often others miss that point and assume you are speaking only in generalities. And, if they do not agree with you, it is hard for them to speak up.
Ways to take ownership for those two statements would be, “I would be embarrassed if that situation happened to me,” or “It’s hard for me to express anger.”
2. Speaking for others.
A statement like “We all care about you” is an example of speaking for others. These kinds of statements discourage a direct response to you, since you have not made a statement about yourself. And they do not encourage conversation or invite others to join in.
If you speak for a specific person, such as “Mark doesn’t want to come,” Mark may feel awkward or angry. You might be wrong, and even if you are right, you have interfered with Mark’s opportunity to speak for himself.
When you speak for others, you are making a lot of assumptions about how others feel, you are overstepping yourself, and in the future people may be reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
3. Avoiding responsibility.
People often tell others, “You’re making me feel guilty” or “you make me feel like I shouldn’t talk.” Your feelings exist in you, not in anyone else, and no one can force you to feel anything.
If you blame others for your feelings, you make them defensive.
However, it is true that other people’s behavior affects you, and giving feedback – while taking ownership – helps them learn about that. And it creates the opportunity for conversation and resolution.
Consider this conversation:
Gene: You made me feel two feet tall.
Chris: That’s because you’re insecure and worry too much.
Gene is much more likely to open the door to a real conversation by making an “I” statement.
Gene: I felt incompetent and embarrassed when you were talking.
Chris: I didn’t mean for you to. What did I say that affected you that way?
4. Asking questions instead of making statements.
Have you ever had the experience of being asked something like “Are you using your car?” when what they really meant was, “I’d like to use your car.” Although this is a harmless example, there are times when asking questions instead of making a statement can confuse people.
Asking “Are you going to be finished soon?” might really be a statement that “I’d like to talk with you soon” or it might mean “I’d like to use your office soon” or it might mean “I need you to finish soon so I can do my part.” You can get into trouble when you assume the other person knows what you really mean.
In a meeting and want to take a break? If you ask, “Would you like to take a break now?” you might confused people about why you’re asking, and you might not get the response you are hoping for. You are much more clear when you self-disclose by saying, “I’d like to take a short break soon.” And it wouldn’t hurt to go a step further and explain why you’d like to take a break, such as “I’d like to stretch my legs” or “I think I’d be able to contribute more if I had a few moments to clear my thoughts.”
Taking ownership for our thoughts and feelings is so much more powerful self disclosure than taking a half hour to share the story of our growing up experiences and what went into the formation of our values. Thank for highlighting the importance of our everyday interactions as leaders
How we behave on a daily basis, in our small everyday acts, is the strongest indication of who we really are. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Fay.
Thanks for making seemingly harmless mistakes in communication so clear. This clarity will help me become more aware of when I have fallen into one of these ways to avoid ownership of my feelings. Keeping on point for what I feel is bound to take my communications to the next level. I love practical advise and I can use and your blog offers just that.
It’s great to hear how you will use this information, Jeannie. So glad to hear you found it practical and useful.
I appreciate your ideas on needing to promote trust. At the core of self disclosure is the idea of truthfulness leading to trust. When you are relating to others, sharing experience in context of your communication is genuine and helpful to others understanding. Avoiding using individually related information places a distance within a relationship that is very noticeable. Therefore, without showing what makes you successful, challenged, etc…. your relationships will have limited meaningful communication. The next time you encourage someone to take a leap of faith, be sure you are able to do the same and perhaps share why this is important…
As you point out, it’s all about putting yourself into the conversation. When you don’t, it creates distance. When you do, it builds connection and trust. Thank you for deepening the conversation, Lin!
I liked your examples a lot and mainly because I do not think there is any rule of good or bad communication that would be universally true and independent of context. For example, general and indirect statements can work quite well when the speaker needs to add more weight to what is said, or is testing the waters (“Are you using the car today?”) before making a request.
Another issue is whether this style works with everyone. Some difficult personalities might require less open, direct and honest communication.
All good points. And you remind me that we need to consider cultural context as well. Please consider these guidelines, not rules. Much thanks for adding to the conversation.
Thanks, Jesse. As always, insightful, helpful, and important.
Great to see you here, Garry! Thanks so much for your kind words and taking the time to leave a note.
I have always thought: Gain trust or you rust! A leader’s integrity and trust quotient are a function of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Self-doubt and admitting that no one person has all the answers opens the way to engage others in solving issues. Being vulnerable allows others to admit when they too need help. A team can grow together!
As always Jesse, thanks or your wisdom.
And making “I” statements – taking ownership for your thoughts and feelings – is an easy way to show that “vulnerability” as it reveals where you are. Much thanks for adding your thoughts, Eileen.
Thanks for this topic. I couldn’t help thinking how effective these points could be for improving family conversations as well as work relationships.
I was thinking the same thing. Although the focus is on work, these are universal principles that improve communication in your personal life as well. Thanks for pointing that out!
Great tips Jesse. I realised that when you disclose how you felt in a given situation, it makes other person understand you better..often we think others understand you without telling your feeling is a mistake, i think…
You make a really important point. Often we think we’re being obvious but really aren’t, and then we are surprised when we’re misunderstood. Taking ownership for our communication makes a big difference. Thanks for emphasizing this!
Wow. Thanks you for the refresher. On some points I noticed why I detected misdirection taking place in certain conversations, and on the other hand, I learned/was reminded how to stay on task in conversations.
So glad to hear that. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of what we already know but forget to do.
Thanks! I have often found that asking questions is the best way to engage someone in conversation. The sad truth is that people really don’t want to hear about me or anyone else; they want to hear things that pertain to them. They like to hear their name. This is why addressing them by name is so powerful.
I also find that genuine questions of interest are a great way to start a conversation. (Ideally once the conversation gets going, it shifts to mutuality). The kind of questions I’m talking about in this post are actually statements that are disguised as questions, not genuine questions. Thank you for adding to this conversation!
Great post! I really like #4 because it’s often not considered, but is the precursor to listen.
That’s true, Ryan. A real question opens the door for listening. You remind me that the way to know the difference is to ask yourself what’s behind your question – is it driven by curiosity and desire to understand or is it really a message you want to give.
I enjoy both your blogs and your quotes that I subscribed to on Tweet Jukebox and use on our Situational Communication® site blogs. You write great stuff! Thanks, Don.
How nice to know. Thank you, Don.
The pleasure is mine. Thanks again. Don