Calling bullshit

I call bullshit jpegI’ve had ridiculous years before, but never a year of bullshit.  Well, half a year to be more precise.

Here’s how all the bullshit started.

In June I was having dinner with a  close friend from college whom I hadn’t seen in 36 years, catching him up about my life and talking about all that I’ve done and accomplished.

“Lois, stop the bullshit,” he said.

What? Me?!

In other words, he felt that I was trying to impress him, which in truth may have been one of my defaults over the years. I never knew it was so obvious. (Or maybe it’s not, except to people who really know us.)

Being called on bullshit in June, I started to pay much closer attention to it. In myself and others.  Now I see it everywhere, especially in business situations.

Bullshit, according to philosopher Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University, is a lot like humbug but a less polite word.  Both mean false talk or behavior, absent sense or meaning. In verb forms they mean deceiving.

We love confident people

I don’t think most people at work are intent on deceiving others. But our society sees confidence and certainty as positive, desirable attributes.  Most of us have bought into the belief that confident people are successful people. By confidence in this context I mean the Merriam-Webster definition:  The quality or state of being certain :  certitude <they had every confidence of success>

We buy from confident sales people. We believe confident coaches, consultants and “thought leaders.” We want to follow confident leaders. We glow when teachers tell us that our children “exude confidence.”

But how much of all that confidence is just a veneer over uncertainty?  How much of it is “faking it until you can make it?” How much of it is bullshit, deceiving ourselves and others and hoping to God that we can deliver on what we’re saying?

My hunch is quite a bit.

What if we revealed our Dark Sides?

So what might happen if we exposed more of our uncertainty and vulnerability? Would people buy less from us? Choose to work for a different company or boss? Not pay attention to our ideas? Would they judge us less competent?

Or might they like and trust us more because of our honesty?

I’m participating in a program this month (Quest 2015) to help us creative types look at how we can lead a more creative life in 2015. On Saturday morning a prompt came from Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor and author of the book, “The Upside of Your Dark Side.

The Upside of the Dark Side: Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out? How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?”

Whoa, Nellie. “There’s no way I’m going to share my most guilty emotions publicly,”  I posted to the Quest 2015 community Facbook page.  Sorry, gang. I like this community writing and sharing, but I’m not going there. I don’t do darkness. I’m the positive, optimistic chick. And, good grief, what would people think if they knew my real dark side?

Todd replied to my “NO WAY!” right away.

Thank you for sharing this, Lois.  Let me share two thoughts from the science:

  1. Shared pain serves as social glue. And binds us into greater intimacy than almost anything else. Sharing our vulnerabilities is a sign of strength.
  2. What we know is anxiety, sadness, anger, embarrassment, guilt, and boredom aren’t the problems. Our unwillingness to be in contact with these emotions and our unwillingness to listen to the information they provide is the problem.

What if we made space for these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and still moved in the direction of what matters most? What are our intuitive emotional reactions telling us that we can learn from?

You’ll be amazed at what happens when you are open to them. What if our deep dark secrets are the same as everyone else?

Getting real is really hard

So after a few hours, I wrote my “Dark Side” story, shared it with the group, and turned off the computer.

You can watch and praise Brene Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability, but to lay bare your vulnerabilities is Really. Hard. Scary. Work. That’s why most people avoid it like an IRS Audit.

But guess what? Nothing bad happened. Only good. Ripping my soul open helped people see the real me.  Instead of judgment, I got encouragement and compassion, and a whole lot of love from people I have never met.  I’ve also seen some new light in my dark places.

All of this leads me to consider:

  • How can I show up more as my real self, making it safe for other people to come as they are?
  • How can I pay as much attention to the information from people’s emotions as I do to research data?
  • How can I more regularly call bullshit and invite people into honest conversations that need to be had to solve important problems?

Note:  Many of us rebels are good at calling BS, especially when we're angry. But how could we call BS in a way that doesn't whip up a shitstorm?  What skills can we put into practice so that we have honest conversations and not "I'm right, you're wrong" debates with people who don't agree with our ideas?

  • How as a society can we stop rewarding the bull shitters?

This is a one person at a time change, although some individuals can influence thousands. A recent client incident brings this alive for me.

The executive vice president of a Fortune 100 company was explaining the eight behaviors important to shaping their corporate culture.

“To be honest, I’m only good at these three behaviors, and I really struggle with these two,” he explained during a company Town Hall.

People’s reaction to his talk was off the “employee engagement” charts. “I never heard an executive be that honest and self-aware – especially at this company. I thought this was going to be another BS session on vision and values. But this one executive changed my whole view about the company because he was so truthful,” an employee told me.

The gift of calling bullshit

In all honesty, I was upset with my college friend when he called my bullshit.  Today I realize he gave me an important gift.

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