Dealing with situations at work and home can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during times of crisis. Have you ever felt conflicted with having to show up a particular way at work while dealing with personal, family or health issues? This is where vulnerability, authenticity and assertiveness play a critical role in ensuring workability for all involved. In this article, I explain how and why these three Aspects of Being make a difference at work and home using two case studies, including one relating to my own personal health journey.
When Jane, a high-flying corporate executive in a major accounting firm, first engaged me for coaching, she was successfully juggling her work managing client projects by day and looking after her family, including three primary school-aged children, by night. Life was busy, but Jane handled everything with finesse. Her career was on fire, and her home life was relatively harmonious. However, everything changed when she was diagnosed with a serious neurological disorder. Suddenly, she faced physical challenges and depleted energy levels that impacted her at home and in the workplace.
For a while, Jane kept her condition to herself, both at home and at work. She pushed through and kept working at the same pace she did when she was well. On the homefront, Jane struggled to allow others to contribute to her, which is why she kept her diagnosis a secret. In coaching Jane, I supported her to see that this reflected an unhealthy relationship with vulnerability and authenticity. If she authentically communicated her situation to her family, there would be much more workability as a team at home.
The Being FrameworkTM distinguishes vulnerability, a Mood, and authenticity, a Primary Way of Being, as follows:
Vulnerability impacts how you relate to the concerns you have with respect to how you are being perceived or thought of in different situations. It is how you are being when confronted or exposed to perceived threats, ridicule, attacks or harm (emotional or physical). Vulnerability is not being weak, agreeable or submissive. It is when you embrace your imperfections. It is considered the quality of being with your authentic self without obsessive concern over the impression you make.
Authenticity is how you relate to the reality of matters in life. It is the extent to which you are accurate and rigorous in perceiving what is real and what is not. Authenticity is paramount for you to carefully consider that your conception of reality – including your beliefs and opinions – is congruent with how things are.
As an executive and leadership coach, I frequently encounter a narrative of ‘nothing to see here’, demonstrating an unhealthy relationship with authenticity and vulnerability. These executives wear a mask and pretend all is well. The problem is the pain is intensified when we fail to prioritise self-care and acknowledge the reality of the situation. Hiding issues we are dealing with at home by soldiering on will eventually create a world of pain in the workplace. Some of your colleagues might even advise you to keep quiet and soldier on, assuming that whatever is troubling you ‘will surely pass’. Senior leaders might suggest you take a break. But when you return, the workload has doubled, creating even more pain.
If you are an executive or leader, you would likely relate to the stress of pretending all is well when it’s not. It is totally inauthentic, and you would definitely be suffering as a result. Eventually, the pain you feel starts to seep out at the edges, and a lack of integrity creeps up on you. Being able to authentically communicate what is going on and set some realistic boundaries for yourself can restore integrity in your life or at least move you towards it.
In Jane’s case, it took a great deal of courage to deal with the fear of losing her income and a healthy relationship with vulnerability and authenticity to make the tough decision to be open to her colleagues and senior leaders about her diagnosis, resign and take care of her health and her family. She knew that if she did not practise self-care, she, her family and her workplace would suffer.
From authenticity and vulnerability to being assertive
My personal experience, and that of working with my coaching clients, has shown that once we develop a healthy relationship with authenticity and vulnerability, it can also make a difference in being assertive, especially when it comes to saying our real ‘yeses’ and ‘noes’. In the words of American author Gavin de Becker, “I encourage people to remember that NO is a complete sentence”. It is important for us to have these tough conversations to set boundaries and manage our self-care. If we don’t look after ourselves, we have little to give anyone else in our lives.
The Being Framework’s distinction of assertiveness is as follows:
Assertiveness is when you express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view while also being respectful of others. It is the willingness to express your thoughts and feelings and communicate your needs and expectations firmly and directly while being considerate of others and aware of any subsequent consequences of being assertive. Assertiveness is being resolute, straight, firm and effective.
My personal journey with authenticity, vulnerability and assertiveness
I have had my own journey of coming to choose to be authentic, vulnerable and assertive due to a medical condition that impacts my life. Nerve damage on my brain means I can no longer function at the pace I used to. Social outings, bright lights and noisy places are limited these days. I have had to come to terms with the boundaries required to look after myself and my family, as my energy is limited. This means I have to lower my guard (be vulnerable), authentically own my condition and assertively say no to things I would normally love to do.
Here is a brief example of vulnerability, authenticity and assertiveness in action. My friend calls to say she would love to catch up and suggests dinner over the other side of town on Friday night. However, I know that I will be tired by Friday evening after working all week. I also know that my medical condition, combined with a long drive and a late night, would significantly impact me. I could say yes to make her happy, but I know that will impact my already-depleted energy levels. So, I assertively thank her for the invitation and politely decline, openly explaining the reason and suggesting a coffee catch-up on Saturday morning instead. I do this because I know it would be more manageable for me and protect my health, meaning I would be true to my authentic self.
Being vulnerable, authentic and assertive helps others to understand. I am learning to set effective boundaries and be open and honest with people. This means I often have to decline social outings that I know will not support me. It helps me to avoid feeling resentful towards others too. They actually appreciate me being upfront and saying my real yeses and noes.
Authenticity, vulnerability and assertiveness are intimately woven and connected to each other. We often hear the phrase, ‘I just need to be true to myself'. But what does that really mean? When we bring authenticity, vulnerability and assertiveness together, we are being true to ourselves in supportive and life-giving ways, not only for ourselves but also for those around us. If you are currently pushing through a tough situation and would like some support, I invite you to connect with me here.