If you are different – it’s better to know.

December 16, 2007

A number of recent client sessions brought a particular “gestalt” to the foreground that I have been aware of for a long time: the issue of being different – not in a pathological way – simply people who are

  • much more intelligent than the rest
  • much more sensitive than the rest
  • much more ethical than the rest

The temptation (supported by pressure from the business environment) is for these people to come up with intricate, complicated, energy-sucking strategies, often honed and developed over half a lifetime, in order to hide, who they are, and instead adapt.

Well, my choice of attributes suggests what I think of these strategies (which I do respect – as anything that humans come up with to cope with situations, which are hard to cope with): they suck your energy – initially, and time and time again, you will become conscious of it, but on the whole, you automatically hide your intelligence, sensitivity, or ethical feelings and thoughts.

Even an initiative as “emotional intelligence” (Goleman), which swept global business since the mid-1990s and has now become almost institutionalized (a particularly devious form of resistance!), did not change a lot. Nor did academic studies like those by Chris Argyris of Harvard since the 1980s (on different theories of behavior and value sets that managers follow – espoused and in-use).

My recommendations are three-fold, and rather simple (I like it that way, and my clients do, too):

  • Know yourself (including, and in particular, the ways in which you are different – from the culture around you)
  • Be as direct about your being different as you feel comfortable with in a given situation – do not be afraid to experiment a little with your being different. Example: surprising people in a meeting with a creative, intelligent, out-of-the-box idea, or a sensitive, or an ethical remark. Don’t go into battle, go shopping instead.
  • Monitor the responses you get – don’t hide from them – including people’s body language, what they say, and what they don’t say. Alter your response in return if needed. Including leaving the firm whose culture forces you to hide your inner self: and don’t be scared – there is most likely some other place out there where you are welcome as you are!

Some mental traps with this course of action are: you’d rather not know that you’re different; and: when it’s clear that you are, you don’t like what you get. You don’t like what it would mean about you (e.g. “I am never myself”. “I waste my most precious energy on hiding myself”. “This culture is SO not me – I need to leave, but I am afraid.”)

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