Posted: 09 Nov. 2020 5 min. read

To build trust, get real

(This is the fifth post in the Breakthrough Manifesto series, an exploration of Business Chemistry and how to tackle solving really tough problems. If you missed the introduction, read it here.)

“You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?" – Dr. Seuss

The fifth principle of the Deloitte Greenhouse Breakthrough Manifesto is get real. In other words, share your authentic self, and risk being vulnerable.

If it sounds like a tall order to do this at work, it is. When we asked 9,000 professionals whether they apply each of the Breakthrough Manifesto principles on their own teams, get real came in dead last. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. Indeed, it might mean there’s an even greater opportunity in it.

A Deloitte study on inclusion of more than 3,000 professionals found that nearly one in two felt the need to cover up at least one of their identities at work. The study further found that this kind of “covering” can have negative consequences, including a lower sense of belonging and commitment to the organization and a higher likelihood of considering leaving. Our own Business Chemistry research, described in our book, has shown that not all types are equally comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. Indeed, the more introverted types (Guardians, Dreamers, and Scientists) often feel less safe doing so than the more extroverted types (Pioneers, Commanders, and Teamers).

We’ve also proposed that Introverts may be more reluctant to truly be themselves because they sense their style is less valued in the workplace (and society as a whole), as has been suggested by Susan Cain in Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain describes the extrovert ideal as a tendency for society to place higher value on charisma and outspokenness than on character and reserve. So being their authentic selves may be something Introverts view as particularly risky.

But getting real isn’t just about claiming your identities, sharing something about your personal life, or showing your personality; it’s also about a willingness to offer up ideas and opinions and to risk making mistakes. Introverts in our research are more likely to say they feel unsafe sharing their ideas (I mentioned this trend related to Guardians and Integrators in my post about silencing your cynic). And when people don’t feel comfortable making themselves vulnerable in this way, it doesn’t help a team’s problem-solving efforts. If diverse views aren’t expressed, then a team likely won’t benefit from that diversity being present.

And ideas aren’t all people won’t offer up when they feel unsafe being themselves. Our research also shows that Introverts are less likely to feel they can be honest with their manager about their stress levels. And when managers aren’t aware of how people are feeling or coping with stress, it can be difficult for them to help. In situations where stress is extreme or chronic, people may be at risk of burnout or of not being able to work up to their full potential.

It’s important to note that while our research indicates introverted types are most likely to feel it’s not okay to be themselves at work, the more extroverted types occasionally feel this way too. I’ve had countless discussions with teams about Business Chemistry, and it’s common for someone to approach me afterward to say they feel their type is devalued on the team. I have heard this concern from individuals of every type, most often when they’re in the minority on a team. And in most cases, those who feel devalued share a similar reaction—they clam up, which actually seems quite reasonable. If you feel your perspective isn’t valued, then why would you continue to offer it?

All in all, it seems teams could really benefit from members getting real, so if you want to encourage your team to do so, how might you go about it?

You can start by acknowledging and asking about people’s lives outside of work, or even their lives at work apart from your immediate team. But be careful not to push too far too fast. Pay attention to people’s comfort levels with sharing. Ask people how they’re doing. Ask about their vacation or their favorite hobby. Ask about their kids, their parents, or their pets. Sometimes people want to get real, but are unsure whether others are interested or how to go about offering up such information, or even whether it’s appropriate in a professional setting. This may be particularly true of your more introverted team members. So help your colleagues out by showing interest in them as people and inviting them to share.

You might also get things going by setting the example yourself. If you take a risk and share something about your own life, it can inspire someone else to do the same, and this kind of mutual authenticity can build trust. Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code, calls this a vulnerability loop, and he emphasizes that the vulnerability comes first, then the trust, not the other way around.

Sometimes we decide what to share either because we’ve been asked or we’ve offered something up of our own accord, but other times we might have less control over the situation. You may recall the time in March 2017 when this happened to Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science. Kelly was being interviewed by the BBC, live on video from his home office, when his four-year-old daughter opened the door and danced into the room to visit her dad. Next, her baby brother rolled in, followed by the kids’ mother, Kelly’s wife, who slid into the room, rushing to pull the kids out. The video went viral, reaching many millions of viewers, and as a result, Kelly became known as “BBC Dad.”

Why was this video so interesting to so many? Well, it’s quite humorous, for one thing, with each person entering the room with their own unique style, while Kelly tries (unsuccessfully) to ignore them and continue with the interview. But the video also represents a rare (if accidental) glimpse of real life, which is often hidden when interacting with, or even just watching and listening to, people in a professional setting. Robert Kelly got real in front of a live, worldwide audience, even though he clearly hadn’t intended to, and we suddenly understood a lot more about him than we had just seconds before.

Beginning early in 2020, many of us have had new opportunities to bring more of our own authentic selves and personal lives into the workplace (and the increased potential for experiencing our own BBC Dad moments), as millions have been forced to work from home in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Meetings in the office have become videoconferences held in home offices, bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens, where spouses, roommates, kids, and pets can often be glimpsed, along with piles of dishes and laundry. I know my own kids, dog, and dishes make frequent appearances in the background of my meetings. Suddenly, many people have been getting a lot more real, out of necessity.

But that’s not all that has started happening. In many cases, leaders, managers, and colleagues have begun to do what they could to normalize these intrusions of the personal into our professional lives, recognizing that, really, it’s the professional that’s intruding into our personal lives. Leaders have sent companywide emails acknowledging the new challenges of childcare and homeschooling that people are facing. On my calls, people reassure each other that it’s okay if a child occasionally interrupts, and then they wave or say hello. They laugh when someone’s dog snores in the background and ask for a quick view of the pooch. And they say “it’s no problem” when a delivery momentarily interrupts a call. If you haven’t done any of this in big or small ways, you can start now to build trust on your teams.

Another action you can take is to have an explicit and ongoing discussion about how much you value a diversity of perspectives. Simply encouraging Introverts (and Extroverts) to be vulnerable may not be enough without explicitly stated and consistently demonstrated evidence that all perspectives are valued. How can you do that? You might ask specifically for different or contrary perspectives during discussions. Or you could thank people when they offer up a different perspective, particularly if they might have felt they were taking a risk doing so. And you can also make an effort to praise honest mistakes or failed experiments that result in valuable learning. This may be particularly important for Guardians, who tend to spend a lot of time thinking about their mistakes, as I highlighted in my post about making a mess.

In the end, what you’re trying to do is to demonstrate that being a professional doesn’t have to be a performance. It doesn’t preclude being human, being real.

Actions in summary for encouraging your team to get real:

  • Ask people about their personal lives, especially introverted team members who may be more reluctant to share
  • Share something about your own personal life to activate a vulnerability loop
  • Reassure people that occasional personal intrusions into professional calls are OK
  • Emphasize and demonstrate that all perspectives are valued, especially minority perspectives

To learn how different perspectives can make a group more creative by encouraging critical thinking, read my next post, which focuses on the sixth Breakthrough Manifesto principle, enlist a motley crew.

And if you simply can’t wait to learn more about our Breakthrough Manifesto or how the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience might help your team attain breakthrough results, explore and get in touch here.

Subscribe to the Business Chemistry Blog

Get the most current insights about leadership, teams, and how relationships fuel our work.

Get in touch

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.