Step 3: Self-disclosure for Leaders, but when, where and why?

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Professional relationships sometimes seem to be convenience relationships, or connections that are built around a specific purpose. Hierarchical structures contribute to such an unbalanced connection. Why is that so?

Any sincere relationship needs personal and emotional involvement. Yes, I know, it sounds “out there.” Let me explain:

Professional relationships are of value if they confirm a certain amount of safety and trust. You are dependent on your employees in many ways and vice versa. That said, this dependency better be founded on mutual trust. This is an issue and requires some work.As we all know, trust is built over time, by creating a relational history of safety and reliability.

If used wisely, sharing some personal insights and experiences at the right moment can increase a sense of trust and safety.

Self-disclosure in that sense is a difficult task as it always has to take into account the when, where and why?
Is that the right moment because s/he seeks advice or needs to see the bigger picture? Does s/he need emotional support and understanding? Is s/he ready to listen to you?
Are you speaking in a room that provides privacy? Do you have time to have a longer conversation?
What is your motivation to share your personal story?
If you cannot answer these questions, don’t do it. Disclosing personal truth is walking a fine line, too much is intrusive and raises skepticism, too little lacks connection. The helpful balance lies somewhere in the middle.
If you find it, self-disclosure can be a powerful tool:
  • It makes the other person feel understood and acknowledged. It is very validating.
  • Speaking from an “I-perspective” allows the other person to take or not take your advice hidden in the story. He or she can decide and does not need to feel pressured or even attacked.
  • It allows for intimacy. Disclosure creates a connection of genuine caring for the other person which in turn builds trust and safety.

Take a moment and think about your professional relationships. Have you ever shared something of your private opinion, dreams or experiences? And if not, what depths do your professional relationships have? Do they genuinely serve the best of your interests?

It is definitely worth to play with the idea of sharing something private. Do it wisely and genuinely, with the intent to support and help. And then see how that influences your relationship.

I am very much looking forward to your comments. Let me know what you think about this delicate topic and its challenging application.

And have fun to continue building successful, professional relationships!


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