It’s well established that many men have difficulty admitting and expressing their vulnerability. Sometimes, like in a hard-nosed negotiation, that serves us well. When it comes to building inter-personal relationships, collaborative teams and work environments where it is “safe to fail,” not being able to connect with one’s own misgivings or doubts (never mind express them to others in helpful ways) can lead to less-than-ideal outcomes.
How can we help men in our organisations show up more fully for the benefit of all?
Here are 5 ways to help men on your team express their vulnerabilities:
- Know your goals.
Why is it important for you and the organisation that employees can demonstrate vulnerability at the right times and in the right ways? What will become possible that isn’t possible now? Is there a competitive or organisational advantage? What is your motivation?
- Be patient and realistic with your expectations.
Take time to diagnose accurately whom you’re dealing with and your situation and be realistic about what is possible in that context. Some men’s social conditioning makes it hard to acknowledge vulnerability and ask for help.
With traditional masculinity, men are expected to be tough, strong, independent, and not expressive of feelings. Generalities notwithstanding, men are as diverse as any other group. Depending on their age (as a group, millennials do better— expressing vulnerability than earlier generations) and other variables you have no control over, the men in your organisation may start from different baselines.
Your organisation’s culture also plays an important role in inviting vulnerability from its employees – or not. Men have a finely tuned instinct for hierarchy and rank. Very few men will risk vulnerability if there’s a chance it will be used against them.
If you are a supervisor, don’t expect a man who reports to you to reveal anything they think might further increase your power over them. Assess the individuals in question and your organization as a whole to get an idea of how likely it is that you can get men to open up.
- Cultivate real trust and safety.
These may already exist in your organisation, or they may take time to develop.
- Don’t expect men to tell you how they’re feeling.
While most men will easily tell you what they think, some men have a difficult time articulating what they are feeling. Men who have been strongly shaped by traditional masculinity know how to do happy, angry, and proud; after that, it gets pretty tough.
They have all the emotional depth and nuance that women do; they just have a harder time articulating it. Instead, men frequently convey their emotions through physical gestures, facial changes, and muscular tenseness. What may look like anger or frustration might be cloaking vulnerability.
- Go first.
Model the kind of behaviour you want to encourage yourself. If there are men who can already talk with vulnerability, get them to model the behaviour. Seeing others go first and be rewarded for it helps others understand in time that “people like us do this.”
This is a guest blog written by Scott Swanson, founder and holistic life coach for men in midlife. He helps men to powerfully reframe their perception of the world. You can find Scott on LinkedIn.