Last year I was working with the CEO of a pharmaceutical firm that specialized in allergy medicine. Hed just joined the company and was preparing for his first big town hall. As the new CEO, he recognized that people would want to know his plans. He prepared several slides about their position in the market, and their opportunities.
I asked, What do you want people to take away? He said, I want them to know the allergy business is important. We might not be curing cancer, but allergies
affect peoples lives. In what way? I asked.
He said, My wife has allergies, when they act up, it ruins family events for her. She had to leave our sons orchestra concert because she was wheezing so badly. She was so disappointed. She had been looking forward to it for weeks. People shouldnt have to suffer like that.
Then why dont you just say that? I asked.
He looked at me in disbelief, Is it OK for me to talk about my wifes allergies?
As the CEO, he felt that he should be professional, and just discuss business. In reality, his team wants to know who he is, and if he cares. He told the story about his wifes allergies at his Town Hall, and the reaction from his new team was overwhelmingly positive. They were thrilled to know that their new boss was emotionally invested in their products.
Leaders often believe they need to dress up their words in professional language to be effective. Actually, the opposite it true. When your strip away the human element, you wind up losing the most compelling part of the message.
Discomfort with emotion is part of the problem. People are afraid to let things get too personal. This isnt just a problem in business. We often clutter personal conversations with facts and directives that cloud the true sentiments we need to convey.
For example, a friend of mine needed to have a difficult discussion with his seventeen-year-old son. He and his wife were divorcing and my friend had decided that he was no longer going to be a member of the synagogue they had attended as a family.
My friend hadnt gown up Jewish. He was what we call un-churched, meaning that he hadnt been raised with any type of religion. His wife was Jewish. When they got married, he agreed that the children should be raised Jewish.
Now, with the divorce, he wasnt going to retain his temple membership. But he was still committed to taking his kids. His challenge was how to tell his son, who was very committed to the Jewish faith.
My friend said, I want him to know that Ill still take him. But I dont want him asking me why Im not going anymore.
Why not? I asked.
He said, I dont want him to think that I dont like his being Jewish. Im glad hes Jewish. Im glad my wife brought that into our family. I wish I had been raised with some kind of faith. I wish I felt as strongly about it as he does.
Again I asked, Then why dont you just say that?
Like my CEO client, he was afraid that if he got personal, it would backfire.
But nothing bad happens when you let people know how deeply you care. When you say what you really want to say, you ignite a much better conversation.