Fresh off the birth of my first child, I was managing one of the largest accounts in our business. Oh – I also had a full head of thick black hair (yes, those were the days!) One day, as I was sitting at my desk a colleague approached me. He asked – “What happened to the back of your head?” He informed me of a small, dime-sized bald patch I hadn’t noticed. A few days later, another small patch appeared and for the next two weeks, more small blotches surfaced while the earlier patches grew in size. Similar patches soon appeared on my arms and legs. I eventually went to see a doctor who delivered what felt like a crushing diagnosis – Alopecia Areata (https://www.naaf.org/alopecia-areata). While I am extremely fortunate that my condition never progressed to the more advanced forms of alopecia, I was permanently relegated to shaving my head in order to avoid the odd, patchy appearance…not to mention the inevitable strange looks from those trying to make sense of the guy with a bunch of “holes” in his head!
It is very easy for me to suppress this truth. These days, it’s quite common and some might say “stylish,” for men to shave their heads. There isn’t much else about me that could be confused as stylish, so hey, let’s roll with the hip, stylish shaved head thing! However, that’s not the truth. Over the years, I’ve steadily become more comfortable sharing this truth about me, due in large part to all that it has taught me about myself. But also because I have seen what happens, relationally, when we choose to expose a self-truth. Connections with others become deeper, more meaningful, more productive and more fruitful. The two-way communication is richer, clearer and more candid. And most of all, that nagging concern often accompanying newly formed connections – the thought that you may be engaging with someone, or some entity you might not entirely trust – is virtually all but removed from the equation!
Today, perhaps like never before, people around the world seem to be on a quest to find truth. Truth is often defined as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. And in the 21st century, facts and reality seem to be so regularly distorted that it could feel nearly impossible to locate and grab hold of what is actually true!
While history presents us with other periods of disconnect between what was being presented as fact versus what was true (Vietnam, JFK’s death, Watergate…), it’s fair to suggest that the past 20 years have eclipsed any prior point in history with respect to this distortion and disconnect. The inherent short-comings within humanity have been exposed more often and in more grand, spectacular fashion than ever before. From corporations, politicians, business and religious leaders choosing greed over the greater good, to professional athletes, actors and music artists succumbing to the pressures associated with their fame and fortune, to media outlets routinely transforming and degrading news into daytime soap opera, to the explosive growth of reality TV programing, “truth” is now a distant relative of fact.
The advent of social media and mobile devices, for all the good they offer, have also acted as a force-multiplier in the spread of misinformation…causing an ever increasing deeper divide between fact and fiction. Virtually everyone, everywhere now has the ability to spread information, regardless of the origin of the data. Often the information hasn’t been researched and/or fact-checked. How many times have we seen someone post a story on a social media platform, only to later take it down after realizing the information was entirely bogus? Social media applications enable us to instantly react and spread what can often times be at minimum, a stretching of the truth…and at worst, complete fabrication.
This pattern of being separated from truth can be unsettling and can lead to myriad forms of individual and societal dysfunction. After all, without the ability to locate truth and the comfort it can provide – even when the facts may be uncomfortable – what then? Where do we turn and to whom? It can feel similar to a captain of a boat, caught in a nasty storm with hurricane force winds and massive waves lashing about. The captain is in dire need of locating the safety and protection of a port. But there is none. He and his mates are alone, being tossed about with little to no ability to control the situation. Steady streams of misinformation, leading to systemic erosion of trust and ultimately a feeling of not being able to identify trustworthy sources, can place a person on that boat. Yikes!
For the sake of this article, I’d like to draw the lens over to the topic of relationships. If societies are being placed on that boat with increasing regularity, what then is the impact on relationships and our ability to meaningfully connect with one another? If we feel as though we are incapable, or, less able to trust others, how can we form connections – relationships – that we know are required in order for us to live and work in ways we desire? In the business setting, how do co-workers come together to produce greatness? Can leaders really be effective without gaining the trust of their constituency? And how do clients and their supplier-partners form the types of relationships that lead to targeted, mutually beneficial results?
Some might say that the answers to these and many other related questions are straightforward and easy to identify. That may be true…which, if so, makes the dilemma all the more frustrating and perhaps even more challenging. If we know the answers…If we know the hazards associated with this problem, heck, it should be very simple to remedy, right?
The reality though is quite the opposite. With regard to people and relationships, it is extremely challenging to connect and form productive relationships if we, as individuals, struggle to first embrace our own respective truths. How can I trust you if I know that I am not being truthful myself? If I intentionally shield “me” from the rest of the world, won’t I believe “you” do the same?
After a series of promotions from staff level positions, I moved into an Account Management position in the early 90’s. One of the clients initially assigned to me was a growing regional bank, headquartered in the southeastern part of the country. As an Account Executive, not only was I to establish and secure a solid relationship with our day-to-day contact, but I was also tasked to seek relationships above and beyond my main client.
In this instance, my contacts’ manager (for the sake of this article we’ll refer to him as Pete) was a man who, during the first 12-18 months of my involvement with the bank, would refrain from getting too involved in the relationship. However, over time and after attending a few account reviews, Pete began to soften and eventually, he agreed to a round of golf.
Golf can often serve as a highly effective boundary-breaker and the round of golf I shared with Pete was no exception. Up to this point, Pete would pop into a meeting here or there and on occasion, sit-in for a short period of time. We would shake hands and take our seats and then Pete would inevitably be called to other duties midway through the meeting. It seemed he was never available for lunch or dinner. But on the day we played golf, it was just Pete and me and not so surprisingly, I learned something about Pete that had not been previously revealed. As Pete and I were driving to the golf course, our conversation turned to the quality – or lack thereof, of our golf games. Pete then held out his left hand and revealed that he was missing his ring finger, and part of his middle finger.
I had met Pete roughly a dozen times and had never noticed his missing fingers. I’m certain he knew I was unaware (I’m pretty sure he had become expert in his ability to conceal his left hand), yet, this day he chose to reveal a truth. His willingness to take a risk and expose a truth about himself cracked open the door that led to a day filled with incredibly deep, personal, stimulating and enriching conversation.
Though unplanned, Pete later invited me to his home for dinner that evening (I actually had a flight home that night, which I rescheduled for the following morning.) Pete’s wife and children were out of town and so the two of us grilled hamburgers while Pete introduced me to the wonderful flavors of sweet Vidalia Onions! We sat on his back porch and talked well into the evening. We shared a great deal about our personal and professional lives and discovered how much we had in common.
In the months and years that followed, through tumultuous periods of change at the bank, our business relationship flourished thanks in very large part to the type of truth-filled and trust-based relationship I shared with Pete.
All of us possess our own stories. Experiences over our lifetimes that form who we are and when exposed, present what is true about you and me. In a day and age when societies around the world appear to be shifting away from truth, away from displaying reality and fact, I would suggest that it’s never been more important for us to take a counter-cultural position by claiming our own truths so that we can draw others to us! Since we know the importance of deep, meaningful connections – personally and professionally – let’s take the risk of not conforming to the harmful trending we see today.
Make no mistake, I am keenly aware that relationships can go bad even when one or more parties have embraced their own stories and have taken the risk of exposing their self-truth(s). To be certain, people and relationships are, if nothing else, infinitely complex with endless dimensions. However, history has shown me that connections are indeed made stronger when grounded in truth!
Being counter-cultural takes courage, a willingness to share and then, to listen. But of course, we all know that our best relationships possess these attributes, right? Why then wouldn’t we want more of a good thing? I sure do!
If you are receiving this newsletter, you are important to me. Therefore, if you would like to share a truth about yourself, I invite you to do so by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or, call me at 602-586-3800. I excitedly look forward to continuing the quest toward developing the most meaningful connections with all of you as we travel our respective counter-cultural journeys.