Life is best lived when people you trust have your back, and you have theirs. To have people in your corner, though, you need to feel like they really know you—that they know your gifts, foibles, desires, and propensities. This takes equal measure transparency and vulnerability, with a solid dose of candor and honesty.
The word authentic is thrown around a lot these days. Many clients come to me striving to be more authentic. They want to be known for who they really are. They want to show up truly as themselves. No hiding, no circumnavigating, no posturing or pretending. So how does one actually cultivate this?
One of the best tools to develop authenticity in our relationships is by sharing impact. What is sharing impact specifically? Sharing impact is telling somebody what’s going on with you in the moment, in relationship to whatever it is they did. This is it in a nutshell.
You can share impact about positive things, and not so positive things. And both are important. For example, let’s say I had a plan to meet with a friend for a long overdue hike, but the day before they call me and ask if we can reschedule. Instead of just saying, yeah, that’s fine, I can challenge myself to be more real, and say something like, “Well I confess that feel a little bit frustrated; but it’s ok.”
In this way I share more of who I really am. Or let’s say that a colleague takes on a lot of responsibility in a project we are working on together. I could say nothing at all. Or I could say something like, “I want to acknowledge how much you are doing, and the impact on me is that it makes me trust you. Thank you.”
If you think about it, we are all being impacted all the time. If a dog barks outside, I’m impacted by that. If a car crashes in the lane across from me, I’m impacted by that. And while it’s not always appropriate to speak everything out loud, some things do need to be spoken. The more we can speak it, the more we’ll be known.
Sharing impact has the power to regularly and reliably create connection and trust between you and others. It’s a chance to be seen. It keeps relationships alive, clear and current.
It prevents build up from old frustrations. If I don’t share impact, I notice they culminate, and I might eventually explode, shut down, or make up stories about the person or situation.
Normally however, instead of sharing impact, we often do the following (present company included):
• Hide – we don’t want conflict, or are afraid of not being heard, so we cloak our feelings.
• Go numb – since we don’t feel safe sharing who we are, we dull ourselves, even to the point of not feeling anything at all.
• Deny – we may be aware of impact, but doubt it is anything important.
• Run up our ladder of inference – in other words, we start with the facts, but let our mind run amok with assumptions and stories, rather than just being present with our feelings.
• Withhold – we feel it, but we’d rather be passive aggressive and hold it against the other.
• Blame – we take a victim stance and blame the other for the impact we feel.
• Triangulate – we stand at the proverbial water cooler and talk about them to someone else.
• Procrastinate – we say to ourselves we’re going to share our feelings, but we want to wait until the ‘right moment’ and that ‘right moment’ never comes.
Sounds fun doesn’t it?
So how do you start to create an ‘impact-sharing culture’ in your relationships? It’s important not to just barge ahead and start sharing impact without first setting up a good foundation and context for yourself and others. Otherwise it can come across as quite insensitive, and you’ll sabotage yourself.
Here is what I recommend:
• Get open – decide you are willing and open to being impacted. Allow yourself to feel how things, positively and negatively, impact you.
• Get present – start a deliberate practice of being self-aware. Don’t even try to start sharing impact until you start getting really good at noticing sensations, emotions, stories, and your beliefs behind those stories.
• Get responsible – establish a deep understanding that your experience is yours, and that you own it. No one can ‘make’ you feel a certain way. The impact others have on you is a direct result of your unique conditioning and held beliefs. This is a big one and deserves more than lip service.
• Slow down – slow down so you can pay attention, and slow down with others so you make time to have this kind of communication with them.
• Inform others – Let significant others in your life know that you want to start being more transparent and real by sharing impact, and express why this is important to you.
• Start with positives first – spend some weeks practicing sharing impact about, and just exercise that muscle. This helps others to learn that sharing impact is not always going to be just bad news.
• Get out of limbic – Whenever you share impact in more difficult and stressful situations, wait until you’ve both calmed down, and you can feel some compassion and care for both you. If either one of you have ‘gone limbic’ (meaning you are in fight or flight response) then what you are saying won’t be heard.
• Check your agenda – are you sharing to be known, vulnerable, and increase connection? Or are you sharing to change someone, prove a point, push someone away, or make someone wrong?
• Set context – tell your person what you are doing, and why you want to do it, i.e., “I’d like to clear something with you because it’s affecting me and my work and I want to move forward together in a good and connected way.” And then…
• Get buy in, “Would this be ok for you?” In this way you are finding the right timing and asking if the other is available.
• Own your experience – be non-blaming, for instance, don’t say, ‘You made me feel…’ or ‘You always do…’ But instead try, “When you used that tone of voice towards me, the impact it had on me was that I felt embarrassed.”
• Stay with the facts – ie, say, “When you used a loud voice”, or “When you were not there” instead of “When you screamed at me” or “When you blew me off.”
• Stay with your experience – ie, “When you were not there at the airport, I confess that felt as if I didn’t matter to you,” … be specific about impact. Use this time to reveal yourself and your vulnerability, i.e., “I’m actually really sensitive and I’m learning all the time. And I shut down when I feel yelled at,” (instead of, “Stop yelling at me!”).
It’s all about supporting expansion, and alleviating contraction — in both of you — thereby cultivating a field of authenticity for both parties. From there, all kinds of great things can happen. You can check out your assumptions, fears and concerns by practicing curiosity. For instance, you could say, “When you said you didn’t have time, I felt that the project wasn’t important. So I want to check it out with you…is it really true that the project doesn’t matter to you?”
If all goes well, you can then use the situation to create new agreements, and get buy-in, i.e., “I’d like to propose that we have an agreement that we never yell at one another when we are in conflict. How does that sound to you?” instead of “Don’t ever yell at me again”. You can engender collaboration and reciprocity by asking them what things they need, or what agreements might they want.
With luck, you’ll also be on the receiving end of hearing how you affect others. I say ‘with luck’ because it means people trust you enough to share impact with you. When done right, it is a really generous way of giving feedback. It is a gift when someone tells you how you are showing up. Our intentions may be great, but we may be unwittingly undermining ourselves by not understanding how we impact others. There is never a need to be defensive, particularly if impact is shared with you in a skillful caring manner.
For example, I was never very good at setting boundaries. When I first learned to use them, I was quite anxious about it. So my boundaries came across as abrupt and scolding. It created a negative perpetual loop whereby people gave me a lot of pushback, and so in response I increasingly feared setting them. Then one day my daughter gently pointed out to me that the tone of voice I used, not the boundary itself, sounded scary to her. What a gift! I used the feedback to work with my issues around boundary setting, so that I could set them without shutting people down. Now my boundaries are better at creating closeness, not separation.
It takes courage to show up transparently. It takes patience and self-awareness to do it in a way that others can hear you. But you will probably find over time that you create scenarios where you feel fully and truly met. Maybe for the first time ever.
With thanks to Jayson Gaddis