The line between work and home life has become increasingly blurred in the past two years, but discussing your problems with coworkers may feel excessive. However, Susan Cain, author of Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, says research reveals that it can have numerous benefits, such as improved relationships with coworkers and increased productivity.
In her book, Cain cites a business that normalised sharing personal woes. Midwest Billing, the billing department of a community hospital in Jackson, Michigan, fostered a culture in which it was assumed that every employee experienced personal difficulties. Sharing difficulties allowed teammates to demonstrate compassion rather than be viewed as a flaw. As a result, employees looked out for one another during divorces, domestic violence, family deaths, and even the common cold.
In addition to being beneficial for mental health, sharing difficulties is also advantageous for business. ” During the five years before the study, Midwest Billing collected its bills more than twice as fast as it had in the past, exceeding industry standards. Cain writes that the unit’s turnover rate was only 2%, compared to an average of 25% for the entire Midwest Health System and a significantly higher rate for the medical billing industry.
The Responsibility of Leadership
Typically, creating a sharing culture begins with leadership. In her book, Cain tells the story of Rick Fox, the former leader of a Shell Oil rig case in the Gulf of Mexico. Fox hired consultant Lara Nuer, co-founder of Learning as Leadership, to assist in resolving issues with oil production and drilling schedules. After speaking with Fox, Nuer revealed that his primary issue was fear. The work was hazardous, as was managing individuals and ensuring their safety.
Nuer worked with the team, encouraging them to talk to each other and share their fears, including personal issues. So, the culture went from being macho, where men never talked about their weaknesses or asked questions, to one where men helped each other.
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“There were fewer accidents because the guys on the rig became more comfortable opening up when they didn’t know how to do something or how something worked,” Cain says.
Sharing your problems, on the other hand, can be difficult as a leader, according to Cain. “At least one study suggests that confiding in subordinates about one’s problems can cause them to lose confidence and comfort with you,” she says. “At the same time, going first is the best way to shift a culture.”
Leaders are not required to share all of their problems. “They don’t need to talk to their employees like they’d talk to their therapist,” Cain says. “It is sufficient to move in the direction of open-heartedness.”
How to Share
Cain claims there are ways to do it correctly rather than putting your personal life on display. For example, she suggests confiding in a colleague quietly and one-on-one. You could also call a team meeting, as a project manager at Google did when he revealed that he was fighting Stage 4 cancer.
“I also like creating spaces where people can share their thoughts anonymously.” “So that you can get a sense of what your colleagues are dealing with as a group without people getting too emotionally involved,” says Cain.
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Cain recommends receiving information with 100 per cent warmth and zero per cent judgement if you are on the receiving end. According to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, humans have “the compassionate instinct,” which wires us to respond to each other’s problems with compassion. Our nervous systems react similarly to our own and other people’s pain.
“As we know from [Harvard Business School professor] Amy Edmonson’s work on psychological safety, people work best in an atmosphere of trust, where they can say something wrong and know that others have their back,” Cain says. However, psychological safety includes the sense of being able to be a less-than-ideal human—and we are all less-than-ideal humans.”
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