Last week, we talked about numbing as a way of putting on armor. Brené Brown points out that sarcasm, cynicism, and passive-aggressive behaviors are another way to stay distant and avoid vulnerability.
The solution is to avoid those three things, and—
be clear and kind.
One thing I’ve always said in sessions with clients is that even though sarcasm may be tempting because it can be funny, it leaves people guessing—it’s unclear what you really mean. Brown takes this further by pointing out that this lack of clarity is exactly why people use sarcasm—she says that
“[cynicism and sarcasm are] a safe way for us to send out an emotional trial balloon, and if it doesn’t go over well, we make it a joke and make you feel stupid for thinking it was ever anything different.” ~Brene BrownBrown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead. New York, NY. Random House.
Wow—that’s big. We’ve all seen that, right?
Here’s an example:
Clara is frustrated that Adam and Evelyn tend to be late with deliverables. Staff meetings include a side glance from Evelyn with a comment like, “Well, maybe we should set the final deadline one week early just in case someone doesn’t deliver their numbers on time.” Or, “Might as well not even count on this one being released on schedule. It’s not like we’ve ever done that before.”
The countermeasure? Be clear and kind.
Kindness—expressed with empathy and the benefit of the doubt—and clear instructions and expectations go a long way in positive communication.
So, instead of Evelyn using sarcastic comments that shut down communication, what if she tried something like, “I’ve been frustrated on the last two reports we’ve delivered, because they’ve been late. I feel like I’ve been on top of it, but some of the inputs have been late. Adam—you seemed to have genuine trouble staying on schedule. Was there something I was missing?”
Or how about if Evelyn added some personal vulnerability? “I’m tempted to do that thing I usually do when I’m annoyed—roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut. But I’ll try sharing the story I tell myself: In my mind, I’m the only one who is passionate about getting this code pushed out by the deadline. That can’t be right. What am I missing?”
It’s okay to mix the feelings, the story you tell yourself, and the tangible needs. Stay kind, though, and be as clear as possible.
This is the fourth post in a short series featuring the work of Brene Brown. Specifically, her book Dare to Lead. Read the introduction post to this series here.
Post #1: Leaders Know the Myths of Vulnerability
Post #2: Leaders Understand the Pitfalls of Perfectionism and Fear of Failure
Post #3: Leaders, Beware of Numbing Behaviors