For a short while, perhaps a week or two, I contemplated changing the name of my business to Without the Mask. I decided against it. But it’s interesting that those three words…without the mask…got under my skin so much that I should even contemplate the notion of a business name change.

I think there are some worthy reasons for these three words getting under my skin, reasons involving an innate desire in all of us for connection, the kind of connection that can only be experienced if we’re willing to share what’s really going on with us without our masks of acceptability. I think also that there’s a bigger picture at play here, beyond the personal perspective, a universal context that seems to be asking all of us to do this thing called taking off our masks and step into a new kind of openness and vulnerability, a vulnerability that is powerful, centered and connected. This universal context is wrapped up in our evolving state as human beings as we let go of fear and move towards a high degree of authenticity and inter-connectedness.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with where most of us are. Most of us, truth be told are a bit scared of vulnerability. We have 101 reasons not to do it (and that’s just the conscious ones). We don’t really know how to do it. And we don’t want to over-do-it. The result of this state of affairs is that many of us under-do-it or we don’t do it at all.

Now it’s not my job to persuade you to take off your mask and be more vulnerable but given the work I do with individuals, teams and organisations and my own personal experience of late, I feel compelled to write about this without the mask business acknowledging that showing vulnerability is a journey for most of us, likely one of many steps, and likely a gradual reveal.

I used to think that ‘taking off the mask’ was dependent on the relationship between people, a dance of intimacy if you like, which would come to fruition when the environment was right, when the relationship was safe and trusting enough to warrant such a risk as revealing what was really going on inside.

I also used to think being without the mask in the workplace was a dangerous strategy.

But now I have a different perspective on both these things. Please do read on.

On the relationship front, yes relationship is at the heart of showing our real selves but rather than the relationship between, let’s say, you and I, being the key determinant as to whether it’s safe for me to take off my mask and be vulnerable, in this new kind of vulnerability I’m of the view that it’s my relationship with myself which is the key factor. This is the journey of the gradual reveal. The gradual reveal of me getting to know me and connecting with myself without judgment, just allowing my experience to be just as it is. In this place of non-judgment and allowing, there is no internal fight, there is no emotional charge, there is just acceptance. And when we are in this place, we are centred, we feel safe, we know what to share and how to share it. We are willing to take off our mask and be vulnerable with others because we’ve been vulnerable with and accepted our-self first. Now we’re not so dependent on how the other responds to what we are about to share.

Naturally when we do have the conversation we are most likely hoping that the other person responds well and feels able to share their own experience without their mask. It is when this happens that connection deepens, relationships are strengthened and we make progress with whatever the theme of our conversation was.

If the other person doesn’t respond well, depending on the context we might just shrug and say ‘that’s a shame’ or we might be upset for a while, but we’re not devastated because we’re comfortable and accepting of what we were sharing. We’ve taken off the mask to ourself, so essentially we’re ok whatever happens.

And it’s probably worth highlighting these relationships I’m talking about are any relationship. In the personal arena they might be wife/husband, parent/child, brother/sister, friend/friend, neighbour/neighbor, partner/partner. In the work context they might be peer/peer, project team member/project team lead etc.

Which leads me onto my second change of perspective on the nature of ‘without the mask’… my thought that being without the mask in the workplace was a dangerous strategy.

Maybe this was true in the past. Or might still be true in workplaces that aren’t evolving. But most workplaces are waking up to the need for huge change and may well be experiencing it now. My own belief is that for businesses to be sustainable they need to evolve into environments where ‘without the mask’ conversations are the norm rather than the exception. A classic without the mask conversation at work is sharing a failure or error. If these conversations aren’t happening, time is lost and further mistakes happen. Another example is sharing hurt feelings to avoid resentment building and conflicts in relationships damaging project outcomes and business results.

At work, without the mask conversations of the new powerful and centred vulnerability type, connect people, and connected relationships are at the heart of a successful business. Time and again I’ve seen the positive impact of people taking off the mask and having real conversations either 1on1 or in teams or groups of people working together towards a common goal or vision. People perform better, and hours, or maybe even days and weeks of misunderstanding, bad feelings and the associated energy leakages and inefficiencies can be circumvented in an instance through taking off masks and talking openly. I’ve seen it in my own work relationships too. Recently I’ve initiated two such conversations, taking off my own mask and showing vulnerability, one with a client, one with a supplier, and in both instances stronger relationships and innovative and unexpected ways forward emerged.

Without the mask conversations are amazing tools in building authentic and compassionate connection both with our-selves and with others. They’re important. They’re worth exploring both personally and professionally. They’re worth mastering. They matter.

And the research says so too, most notably that of Dr Brene Brown, a pioneering researcher in the area of the power of vulnerability. If of interest, a link to a talk between Tim Lott and Dr Brene Brown at the Royal Society of Arts in London is here.