Have you ever prepared for an important event or opportunity, such as a presentation, and, just as you were about to deliver it to your team or clients, you thought to yourself, “What will they think of me?”
Worrying about what others may think of us can manifest in many ways. Examples include:
- "Maybe they won't like me."
- "What if I am wrong?"
- "They may not like what I have to say."
- “Do they believe I am ready?”
- “What will they think of me when I share…?”
Once the thought or feeling appears, we change tactics. We may follow the standard advice to ‘look strong’ and ‘appear to have everything under control’, or ‘fake it’ and hope no one notices. But such strategies fail to support us in dealing with our challenges and delivering a stellar presentation, offer, speech or meeting moderation. Instead, we get stuck and nervous as concern for how we are perceived impacts our peace of mind, confidence and self-expression. Consequently, our message becomes convoluted, and we are unsuccessful in meeting our objective.
People sense when something isn’t right, especially when we try to fake it. The result is a loss of trust, fewer winning offers, and fewer delivered projects. In the end, it impacts our business's top and bottom lines. So how do we address it? It begins with being vulnerable.
Step 1: Being vulnerable – an ontological approach
According to Ashkan Tashvir, the author of BEING and creator of the Being Framework™, vulnerability is the opposite of the weakness many conceive it to be. He did not make this up. His distinction of vulnerability as a Mood that drives or stops us is based on the transcendent and transhistorical meaning of what it is to BE vulnerable. He writes, “Vulnerability is how you are when confronted or exposed to perceived threats, ridicule, attacks or harm (emotional or physical). Being truly vulnerable is when you are okay with your imperfections. It is considered the quality of being with your authentic self without obsessive concern over the impression you are making.”
As well as being far from a weakness, vulnerability is the opposite of control or being closed/guarded. We build powerful relationships when we can be vulnerable with our imperfections and dialogues. If we are overly concerned about how our clients or team members see us, it impacts how we communicate with them. Ask yourself, “Am I open? Or am I closed, pretending to have it all together, know everything, and everything is perfect?” as outlined in my article, ‘It has to be perfect!’.
When we are vulnerable enough to acknowledge and articulate our concerns as well as how we feel, we can separate those from our message, be it our presentation, our contract or whatever we want to communicate. That way, people get the real message rather than our concern. Before your next presentation, I encourage you to voice any concerns you may have, perhaps with someone you trust or even the audience. In the case of the latter, you could say something like, “Before I begin, I just want to share that I feel quite nervous and concerned about what you think of me right now”. Observe what happens to you and your audience; you might be surprised. Remember, vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
Step 2: Being authentic– an ontological approach
Another Aspect of Being that supports us when we worry about what others think of us is authenticity. According to Ashkan Tashvir, “Authenticity is being consistent with who you say you are for others, and who you say you are for yourself.
As part of authenticity, we differentiate between our persona – the image we project to others, based on conversations we have with the world about ourselves – versus our self-image – which is based on conversations we have about ourselves with ourselves. Let’s consider an example. Suppose I have a low self-image. In that case, I might frequently tell myself, “I am not good enough” or similar, while trying to project a high persona of having it all together and being perfect to others. Pretending to be someone other than who I think I am would naturally cause me to suffer.
What does it look like to be vulnerable and authentic?
A client of mine, a business owner with a team of 20, discovered that whenever he was dealing with his team, he was concerned about what they thought of him. His inner dialogue would constantly be on overdrive, “What if they think I am stupid?”, “What if they don’t do what I say? and, “I am a bad manager”. The impact on the team was that they experienced him as being a micromanager and controlling.
When he started coaching with me, I supported him to understand that his competency, self-image and the persona he was projecting to the team were out of alignment, depicting an unhealthy relationship with authenticity. On a scale of 1-10 – 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest – he scored himself a 5/10 for competency, a 4/10 for self-image, and 10/10 for persona. In other words, although he believed he lacked competency, which caused him to have a relatively low self-image, he portrayed a bloated image of himself to the team. However, on reflection with his team, he discovered that his competency was much higher than he perceived it to be.
Over the coming sessions, I supported my client to become aware that his inner dialogue was not a reflection of how things actually were. By transforming his relationship with authenticity, he managed to align his competency (reality) with his self-image and subsequently stopped projecting an exaggerated persona to his team. What did that mean for him? It meant that he could allow himself to be vulnerable and acknowledge that he was scared.
One day, he mustered the courage to share his experience with the team and apologised for trying to tell them what to do all the time. Guess what? His team instantly started trusting him, revenue grew, and the business thrived. But most importantly, he became okay with himself and stopped trying to be perfect.
So how can you transform?
- Review and acknowledge your dialogue/feelings/thoughts, especially before important meetings, presentations, etc.
- Share with others if you feel anxiety, fear, or concern that they will judge you or what they think about you.
- Reflect on how competent you really are. Write a list of all competencies you have acquired in your life and rate yourself on a scale of 1-10.
- Reflect on how you see yourself. What are the conversations you have with yourself (your self-image)? Rate your self-image on a scale of 1-10.
- Reflect on how you present yourself to others, be it on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, in face-to-face meetings, etc. Is your persona in line with who and how you really are? Again, rate your persona (the image you project to others) on a scale of 1-10.
As Brene Brown puts it, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage.” We need to combine vulnerability with authenticity and look at what we are truly capable of – our competencies – comparing that with our self-image and our persona. When we project our real authentic selves to others, we generate trust. We get access to authentic communication based on an alignment of competency, self-image and persona. And with trust, the performance of our team and company will eventually grow as well.