How Getting Real Can Bring Real Results to Your Workplace

© creative soul -

What would happen to your team and your organization if people showed up in a more real, genuine, human way?

What if people on your team and in your organization related as human-to-human, rather than role-to-role, title-to-title?

What would those relationships be like and how would you work together if people were more willing to talk in an unguarded way about their hopes, fears, concern, and even about their humanity?

Do you think that you might work a little better as a team? Do you think there would be less assuming negative intent, blaming, and judging?

Conversations that lead to breakthroughs

If your team members had greater empathy and understanding, and therefore greater trust, do you think they would be more willing to have those courageous conversations that they are NOT having? Consider the difference it would make in terms of the results they would get — which they are not getting now because they are afraid to have the conversation.

If you hunger for a more “real” workplace with more “real” people showing up, I have a story that will bring you hope and some “How” — as in “How to get there.”

First, some quick context.

I’ve long been interested in this question: How do you create relationships that make possible the kind of conversations that lead to breakthrough innovation and maximum productivity, and a deeply fulfilling work experience?

In most workplaces, people have developed a superficial, limited and often self-protective/self-promoting way of relating — perhaps a survival skill learned out of necessity. Yet that, by definition, will limit the potential, creativity and operational efficiency of the entire organization.

As part of my work on how leaders can foster these kinds of relationships, I look for other thought leaders who have something deeply meaningful to share.

Enter Mike Robbins, author of Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken and Focus on the Good Stuff.

What happens when a team connects human-to-human

I reached out to Mike after his outstanding presentation at the recent Wisdom 2.0 conference. Not only was Mike an amazing storyteller — a topic near and dear to my heart — but the message his stories conveyed about what happens when teams are willing to be real, open, and authentic, was truly inspiring.

The following story is an excerpt from our interview. It’s been lightly edited to make it flow in the written format. It’s a story about what happens when a team becomes more real and connects human-to-human.

There’s an exercise that I do a lot when I’m working with teams — especially leadership teams — that I write about in my book Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken.

The way I set it up is to use the iceberg as a metaphor. We let the tip of our proverbial iceberg pop up above the surface, but… what’s really going on, how we really think and feel and what’s really happening … that’s all down below the surface, down below the water line.

We can’t see it (and neither can anyone else).

So the way the exercise works is that ask people to go around the group and say: “If you really knew me, you’d know this about me…

…and then follow that with whatever it is they want to share.

I go first to model it.

Now usually, the people know each other, so I say, “Look… it’s not that you don’t know each other, but I’m curious for you to share what’s really happening right now. What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What are you not saying, so to speak.”

In some situations there’s tension in the room, there are problems. In others, that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, I recall a meeting about a year ago that I went to speak at. It was a pretty high level leadership team in a very large organization. They weren’t having any major problems. There wasn’t an issue per se. It was more just gathering the leaders together. They’re not all in the same location, so they just brought everyone together to do a daylong meeting. The leader asked me to come in just to do the first hour to kick it off in an uplifting way.

So I introduced this exercise.

Again, I always start. I always model it and just share usually whatever’s really true and authentic for me in the moment. Then we start to go around the table.

What was interesting is as people started to share and open up about what they were thinking and what they were feeling—and this is often the case—a lot of what they were talking about didn’t have anything to do with work.

It was just personal stuff, life stuff.

A number of people at this particular meeting — and this often happens — actually started to cry.

They got really emotional, which can always be sort of a tricky interesting thing in the work environment.

As we went around the table, people shared different things. Some shared challenges and issues they were dealing with, others shared things they were grateful for and excited about … whatever it was, it was just life, it was personal stuff.

The guy who runs the whole group, the senior executive in this company who I knew, who had invited me, looked around and he said: “Wow. I had no idea that that was going on for you guys.”

He continued, “I consider myself to be a really, really in-touch, high-touch connected-with-you -guys kind of leader. But this just made me realize there’s a whole other level for me to connect with you.”

After he said that, it was time for me to leave. They had the rest of their day-long meeting.

The leader, Chuck, called me the next day and said, “Mike, I’ve got to tell you. We had the best leadership meeting we’ve ever had.

He said, “That exercise we did in the morning not only set the tone, but it really altered my perspective of the team and where people are coming from. I realized as I said to the group, I’m so busy and I get so focused on things. I’ve got to take the time to go a little deeper and ask more questions and really connect with them on a personal level.”

This is the type of thing I see this all the time as a result of this simple exercise.

It’s a simple exercise and a simple concept. It’s not always easy to do because, especially in the business world, people spend a lot of time and energy playing their cards close to the vest.

But when people are willing to open up and be real and share what’s happening for them personally and to be vulnerable, not only does it connect them with one another, but it actually makes it safe for other people to open up, which ultimately makes it easier for communication to happen, conflicts to get resolved, decisions to get made and all of the important stuff that needs to get done in business … to get done.”

An emphasis on workplace relationships

I love this story because it personifies what can happen when people show up in real, authentic ways, and how doing so affects their relationship, and how the relationship shift affects their results. It illustrates how fostering more open, authentic relationships can lead to tremendous operational efficiency.

By the way, this emphasis on relationships and being real is often cited by Southwest Airlines’ leadership as their “secret sauce” when it comes to their amazing operational efficiency, not to mention their legendary customer service culture.

Article Continues Below

Just as important, though, is the effect that being more real has on how satisfying and meaningful people find the work experience in your organization. Humans are creatures of belonging. Because the quality of our work experience is so profoundly affected by our relationships with our co-workers, cultivating more rewarding relationships leads to a more rewarding work experience.

Haven’t you found that to be the case?

So, are you willing to “be the change?” Are you willing to lead the way?

You can be the catalyst for a more real workplace that encourages people to show up more fully and connect human to human.

You can start by sharing this story with your team and ask if they are willing to give Mike’s exercise a try.

Sharing your inner world with others

Or you can share this story with your team and ask them to share their vision of what it would look and sound like for them and the rest to relate in a more real, authentic, open way.

If you do this, remember to start off by modeling realness and authenticity, just like Mike does.

If you’re not sure about doing the above, maybe you can put your toe in the water, by consciously sharing more of your inner world with team members. You can be more truthful when you don’t know or don’t have an answer. You can share your concern about being able to “get it all done” or whatever is real for you.

If that seems too scary or too out of the norm for your team, think of a dialed-down version that feels safe enough for you, while at the same time, models a new, more real way of being.

And how about letting the rest of us know below what you did, and how it went?

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," and Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker, volume one of the Courageous Conversations at Work series, as well over 100 articles and book chapters.

You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at