“Authentic communication is not always easy, but it is the basis for successful relationships at home and real effectiveness at work.” —Sheryl Sandberg
Some Lean In blog followers are telling me that they’re “behind in their reading.” Others that they don’t even have the book.
So let me just clarify: this is a blog, not a school. You can read at your leisure and are welcome to revisit previous posts and add your comments whenever you li
In fact, I’d encourage you to do just that. Every chapter topic so far has been thought provoking, and the comments thoughtful and illuminating. You’re welcome to join in any time … even if you haven’t read the book at all.
So on to Chapter 6: “Seek and Speak Your Truth.”
Sandberg approaches this subject from two different angles: first, how we offer honest/constructive feedback to others in the workplace and second, how we seek and hear honest feedback about ourselves. The goal is to overcome barriers and fears that prevent the kind of healthy interaction that helps everyone improve and is good for the organization.
This chapter is full of remarkably candid disclosures of places where she’s blown it and lessons she’s learned in striving for the kind of “delicately honest” communication she believes are necessary for a healthy workplace.
Family and cultural conditioning work against the kind of authentic communication necessary for a healthy workplace.
“As kids grow up, we teach them to be polite, watch what they say, not hurt others’ feelings…. But as we learn to speak appropriately, we lose something in authenticity…. people constantly back away from honesty to protect themselves and others.” (p.77)
Once again fear can get in the way—mainly of being misperceived, but also of drawing disapproval and/or fire from others—”a fear brought to us by that same voice in the back of our heads that urges us not to sit at the table.” (p.78)
She offers practical suggestions about how to engage another person about an uncomfortable issue in a way that “sparks a discussion” instead of wounding or triggering a disagreement. (p.79)
Sandberg requested weekly feedback from her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, which he asked to be reciprocal. (p.84) Eventually those weekly conversations became unnecessary as this kind of healthy interaction became a natural part of their working relationship. She let employees know she wanted their input and made a practice of speaking openly about her own weaknesses, thanking people publicly for their honesty, and maintaining a sense of humor “to foster authentic communication” (p.85-86).
Of course there are times when words do hurt. “Most women believe—and research suggests—that it is not a good idea to cry at work.” (p.88) But she cites examples of moments where tears brought out the caring side of male colleagues—even a hug from Zuckerberg.
“Not every workplace and every colleague will be as generous and caring. But I do think we are moving toward at least blurring the line between personal and professional …This shift is good news for women, who often feel obliged to suppress their emotions in the workplace in an attempt to come across as more stereotypically male. And it’s also good news for men, who may be doing the exact same thing.” (p.90-91)
While I agree with the need to develop a working environment where there is open, honest conversation and everyone gets heard, that wasn’t where I thought Sandberg was taking us. The title “Seek and Speak Your Truth” sounded like a discussion about “What happens after you sit at the table?”
So I’d like to add three more issues to this discussion.
First, not every boss takes Sandberg’s approach. Not every workplace is conducive to the kind of healthy discussion she’s advocating, which presents new challenges.
In a short-lived job I had in my twenties, I was unnerved when my boss (a Christian man) subjected me to verbal and emotional abuse. My conservative church background and its accompanying view of female submissiveness didn’t prepare me to deal with abuse. Christian men I turned to for advice considered confronting him on my behalf, but no one suggested I should confront him myself and leave if he didn’t stop.
I still wish I’d spoken a little truth into his life!
Abuse happens—both in the secular and sadly also in the Christian workplace. Not every boss is open to healthy feedback. In the past few months I’ve worked with at least five women dealing with Christian bosses—both complementarian and egalitarian men—who are spiritually abusive.
We need to open that whole can of worms.
Second, Sandberg’s comment regarding banning tears from the workplace “in an attempt to come across as more stereotypically male” relates to a whole lot more than tears. Beginning back in the 60’s when the current surge of women into the workplace was starting, conventional wisdom (which on this point is happily in decline today) meant that for a woman to succeed she needed to adapt herself to the existing male culture—to think, talk, and do business “like a man.”
It is the perfect way for a woman to lose herself and simultaneously deprive others of the true benefits she brings to the table.
To “seek and speak your truth” means bringing one’s authentic, and yes female, point of view to the table—not with an “I have my rights and I will be heard” attitude, and I certainly don’t mean being “girly.” Nor does it mean refusing to understand the men around the table and how they think. At the very least, it means approaching work with a sense of confidence that what you bring as a person is unique and needed. It means finding your authentic voice and speaking honestly from your unique perspective and experience.
Third, as Christians, our interactions with others in both Christian and secular work environments always confront us with the deeper, more difficult challenge of living out the gospel in our regard for and relationships with others. This doesn’t mean we can’t be honest or raise uncomfortable issues that may be hard for others to accept. It doesn’t mean we can’t make tough decisions or even fire an employee when necessary. It does mean Jesus is our role model in the workplace, and so our actions and interactions are to be tempered with grace and concern for the good of others.
Easier said than done, I know. It’s a messy, complicated world, my friends.
So What’s Your Take?
What about that can of worms? How do we detect and address abuse in the workplace? This blog has readers who are in abusive situations, so this is an opportunity for us to let them know they’re not alone and discuss ways to deal with these destructive situations—input I wish I’d had when I was facing abuse.
How can we do a better job of finding and owning our voices? And what are the unique challenges we face as Christians in seeking and speaking our truth in workplace relationships?
Lean in with your comments!
Previous Lean In Posts …
- Introduction: Women, Work and the Church
- Chapter 1: The Leadership Ambition Gap
- Chapter 2: Sit at the Table
- Chapter 3: Success and Likeability
- Chapter 4: It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder
- Chapter 5: Are You My Mentor?
Other related posts …