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Trust Your (My) Story

On Saturdays, I’m going to try an experiment and blog about a more personal topic.  The goal of the experiment is to explore the power of being vulnerable in my writing in order to see the relationship between vulnerability and trust.  If the experiment is successful, I’ll incorporate personal topics into more of my posts.

The closest relationships of my life have always had a high element of self-disclosure.

But I didn’t realize until college that in the relationships where I was most forthright about all the important things going on in my life, I always had a deeper rapport and a better relationship with the other person.

In 2007, I had a mentor tell me that he was stunned at how forthright with him about my family, or the girl I was dating at the time, and on.  He said that we had been able to have conversations where he had felt comfortable sharing parts of his life that he rarely shared with anyone.  At the time, I knew we frequently had very meaningful dialogues where it seemed as though we were both being mentored and growing.  But it never dawned on me that I was more willing to share my life and the questions that I was asking than he expected me to be.

I assumed everyone was like me in how they shared their lives.


This week I wondered how being open as a writer makes me more powerful?  Would a bit of vulnerability in a newsletter increase opens?  Does that create more trust over the long term?

Recently, I had a project where my willingness to NOT self-disclose readily made a big difference in a bad way.  This is an example of where I failed to be vulnerable enough, and it cost me on a project.

In this story, it wasn’t enough to just be vulnerable, I needed to be vulnerable according to the culture of the company.  I found out the hard way that not understanding the company culture in advance will actually prevent me from self-disclosing in the right way with the people I’m working with.  Had I done a bit more research in advance I would have easily known the exact steps to create trust with people inside the company, thus saving me a ton of time and frustration.  Not to mention saving me money as well.

When I started the project I was working on, from day one, I had a gut feeling that I didn’t understand the culture.  Right then, I should have realized what was going on, gone home that day, and done some research to understand the culture.  To turn the vague feeling that I had into real information.  All I really knew was that the culture didn’t know how to allow my personality to express itself. But instead of doing the work in advance to understand my customers’ needs, I just decided to hold back in order to fit in.

I was willing to do this, but it wasn’t worth it.  Not only did it make me miserable, but everyone knew I was holding back.

I know my personality Type.  My Type is an ENFP.  In a nutshell, that means that I’m an initiator of change, always open to new possibilities, and ready to come up with a new solution.  I tend to be a very expressive personality, and I’m at my best working on fluid projects that allow me to express my creativity.

The thing is, I love figuring out how to fit into new cultures.

You only need to spend a little while asking questions to understand the company culture.

Questions Like:

  1. What is the company mission?
    This will tell you not only what the company’s values are, but it can often give you a hint as to
    how the company goes about achieving the goals it sets for itself.
  2. What is the dominant personality Type of the company leadership?
    At this particular company, I realized after about 2 months that the company leadership was
    comprised of introverted thinking Types.  As an extraverted feeling type, I would need to
    communicate very differently in order to be heard by the men and women in leadership.
  3. What are the top 5 subjects that 75% of the company likes to talk about?
    This organization had a handful of pop-culture and sports topics that everyone generally paid
    close attention to, and could talk about readily.  It was critical for me to know what these
    were in order to build rapport.
  4. What subjects are always taboo for the company?
    This will vary.  Normally politics and religion are off-limits, but that’s not always the case.
    Never assume that you know what those things are because what’s taboo in one organization,
    could be water cooler fodder at another.
  5. How does the culture react to new ideas and concepts?  Do they resist or reject the novel idea? Or do they acknowledge new ideas and find a way to implement the good ones?
    Some places simply don’t want to hear a new idea, and it’s best to keep them to yourself.

Many of these questions would have saved me some trouble and made my life easier while I was completing work for the organization.  By asking these questions in advance, I could have reduced friction in my interactions at the company, and saved myself some headaches.

By not asking those questions, I missed an opportunity with the company.  By not asking those questions, I didn’t allow my story to tell itself.

I learned that when I hold myself back, people can tell.  Even when they don’t know me very well.

The project team could sense that I was still walking on eggshells after a few months.  And I felt like they never quite knew how to talk to me as a result.  Since I could clearly feel their discomfort, I actually held back more.  Compounding the problem.  By holding back, I believe I made it impossible for the culture to fully accept me.  They didn’t trust what I wasn’t showing them.

The crazy thing was that I found myself working much longer hours than I normally do in order to produce my normal quality of work.  I was trying so hard to manage cultural expectations thatI lost sight of who I know I am.

The crucial element of Trust was missing.  So I’m exploring the possibility that self-disclosure may be an essential part of building trust between two parties.

Not only am I exploring trusting my readers, but I’m also exploring trusting myself.  Trusting that the story I tell does touch people, and does make an impact on the world.

What’s your story?  How has it made a difference for the people in your life?

Will you post a comment and tell us part of your story?


Hope this helps.

-Austin Gunter