Monthly Archives: July 2013

What Angelina Jolie Can Teach You About Vulnerability and Friendship

When Angelina Jolie announced to the world that she’d had a double mastectomy there was almost universal praise for her bravery and honesty in sharing her feelings. She explained how she feared she would die of breast cancer as her mother had and she wanted to make sure that would never happen and deprive her children of their mom.

The honesty and vulnerability Angelina displayed are very attractive qualities because they show people we are like them, it shows everyone we have fears, worries and self doubt just like everyone else, only we are one of those with the courage to admit it. When it comes to getting to know people better and to really connect with those we love it’s necessary to let them know who we really are. The more we accept ourselves the more we can share our true thoughts and feelings. And when we do we become more interesting, our true nature shines forth and we express what makes us unique. These are also the qualities that make us who we are and being honest about who we are differentiates us from everyone else. Over time we grow into who we really are and drop the pretence of being bland, always on top of things and just like everyone else.

Shy people often err on the side of sharing too little about what they really think and they worry that people will judge them or criticise them for being different when in fact unless you have some qualities that make you different it becomes very difficult for people to want to get to know you better. While some overly talkative people can be guilty of sharing too much information (TMI) those who lack social confidence often go to the other extreme and share too little information (TLI).

When you share too little information the conversation can become very one sided with the other person sharing their stories, thoughts and opinions while you shake your head, agree and listen attentively but without recognising that at some point you need to contribute your own personal stories and perspective if you are to give the other person a chance to get to know you better.

I used to make this mistake and then wonder why as I got to know people better they really didn’t understand me, they didn’t know what I really thought and for some reason the friendships remained polite and cordial but rarely grew to be deep life long friendships. One day I was talking to my friend Nicole and she said to me, “It’s as if you just turned up here from another planet with no past and fully formed as you are now.”

She was right. I never talked about my failures and successes in the past, I didn’t share my fears or worries and I rarely asked anyone for help when I had a problem. Why? Because I was afraid of criticism, rejection and being ridiculed. My fears were stopping me from connecting with people and the barriers I put up made it almost impossible for new people to get to know me.

What I subsequently learned is that, like Angelina Jolie, when you share some of your vulnerability you become more likeable because people can now relate to you. Kind, decent people will listen to you, care for you and become friends you can count on. Will some people criticise you? Yes! Even Angelina in her hour of greatest honesty and humanity had people condemn her for her choice. You know what? Some people are negative, some people are critical and some people are just deeply unhappy. You can never please them so don’t even try. Instead identify who these people are in your life and just for them adopt a policy of not sharing much personal information.

How to Share More of Who You Are:

Here are some pointers you can use to be selective about who you share your true self with.

1. Work

At work it’s smart to be friendly with everyone but still realise that most work colleagues are not friends other than a few good friends you have in the workplace.

When it comes to colleagues err on the side of sharing too little of your true feelings. I remember one time years ago when I told a colleague I regarded as a friend that I really didn’t feel like flying to Amsterdam to represent the company at a trade fair. I went back to my office and within minutes she was talking to our boss about my lack of team spirit, five minutes later I was sitting across the desk from the boss explaining myself.

In any competitive work place it’s often hard to know who to trust, honesty and vulnerability can be used against you so it’s best to put on your work mask in those environments.

2. Gossip

Let’s face it some people like to gossip and they just can’t help themselves. A good friend of mine likes to gossip, he’ll always apologise later but that’s no consolation when he has already broadcasted your personal news to everyone that knows you.

When talking to a gossip filter what you share, only share personal stories that you would happily share with everyone in your social circle. Never expect a gossip to keep a secret because secrets make the best gossip!

3. Minor disclosure

When you want to get to know people better it’s time to share more of who you really are and it’s time to talk about what you really think. When you do this keep the conversation on a positive track and steer clear of dark fears and oppressive worries by sharing a minor disclosure. A minor disclosure could mean mentioning that you signed up for an art class because it’s something you always loved doing when you were younger, it could mean saying how proud you are of your brother who just got a promotion or it could mean saying that you are looking forward to a weekend away with your partner at the end of the month.

For me it could mean mentioning that I just released a new book on Amazon, I regard this as a minor disclosure because I have no fear of disapproval over it and the whole world can see the book listing anyway even if I don’t tell people.

It’s good to share a minor disclosure for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s low risk for us and we don’t have to worry so much about being criticised, and, secondly, we want to assess the response of our friend. Do we get a positive, supportive response or are we faced with a lack of interest?

If you get a positive response, you’ll often find the other person responds with a minor disclosure of their own and the conversation takes on a more intimate nature. On the other hand, if the person is disinterested or even aloof you can test a few more times with some more minor disclosure to see if he warms up. If he just isn’t interested it’s an indication to keep the conversation at a superficial level.

4. Major disclosure

A major disclosure is one I’d recommend you only make with someone you know likes and respects you. This is generally family and close friends. These important people in your life will get to know you better if you are more open, they’ll then start to like and appreciate you even more as they find more to relate to.

A major disclosure would be getting fired and phoning a close friend to announce the fact, it could be visiting a relative to let them know you are moving to a new area to build your first home or it could be announcing to a group of good friends that you just met the love of your life.

Reserved people can be slow and exclusive about who they share good and bad news with but remember those who care about you want to know how you are getting on, they want to share your success and they want to support you through the lean times. The more you keep them in the loop the warmer and better your relationships will be.

Little by little, starting with minor disclosure you’ll notice who your true friends are but from that point on it’s good to be selective and only share the major disclosures with your closest friends. Do this and you’ll build a close knit group of great friends who love and appreciate you.

You don’t need to reveal all your greatest fears and personal battles but you can learn a lot about vulnerability from Angelina Jolie. That courage and willingness to be true to yourself and to share who you really are will enrich all the friendships that matter most to you. You’ll be happier, more expressive and an interesting friend to spend time with.

The Boss from Heaven and Hell

Derek was a lot of fun when he first hired me and he was the last boss I ever had for reasons that will soon become obvious. He was also a brilliant salesman and he’d been so successful in his career that by the age of 40 he didn’t really need to work anymore. Not for money at least but he did feel the need to work for respect and to “make it big” in the corporate world.

As my sales manager he sometimes went to client meetings with me and everyone loved him. He was great with people, fun to be around and genuinely a very likeable person. I learned a lot from him – I learned to be myself when I met people, to listen attentively and to go out of your way to make sure the customer got what he needed. He was living proof that you could be honest, hard working and get ahead without manipulating prospects into buying.

And the basis of his success was his delight in meeting people, cracking jokes and having a good time while still making sure the work got done. He always had funny stories to tell and I heard him tell the same stories again and again with the same enthusiasm only to different people. He taught me that you don’t have to be original, your stories can be fun and interesting to all the people you meet for the first time.

Derek worked long hours. He’d leave home early, say goodbye to his wife and two young children and be in the office before most people had left the house for the morning commute. He also worked late and sometimes he’d head to the movies at the end of the day to relax. This was a source of fun in the office because he loved the movies and somehow the morning after he’d still be in character, he’d still be playing the role of the action hero he had admired the night before.

One day you’d call by his office and he’d be smiling and laughing and you knew he’d spent an enjoyable evening watching Jim Carrey. He’d be cracking jokes and if you needed him to sign off your hefty expenses it wasn’t a problem. But another day he’d call you to his office and he’d be pounding his fist into the desk and shouting, he’d be talking like business was war and no matter what you said he’d be furious. On days like that you wished he’d watch fewer macho adventure films and maybe more romantic comedies. Those were the days when people kept their heads down and avoided him whenever possible.

Over time Derek got more and more agitated and angry. Instead of just now and again he was in a bad mood most of the time. When I was out of the office meeting with clients I’d switch off my phone so I’d didn’t have to deal with him and when I was in the office I’d steer clear of him, shut the door to my office and get stuck into my work. One day I was busy at my desk when he phoned to scream down the phone at me. He was furious about something and it was my turn to feel the full force of his anger. I reluctantly and nervously walked over to his office, I closed the door behind me and waited for the rage to rise and subside.

He was in a foul mood so I gave him my complete attention, I agreed with him in saying that things needed to change and I assured him that things were looking up for the better. I knew that there’s no point in trying to reason with someone when they’re angry so my main goal was to wait it out and not provoke more trouble for myself. He slammed his fist into the desk a few more times and told me to get out of his office which I did, gladly.

I retreated back to my office and I knew not to take it personally. Derek had one by one given the same treatment to all the senior staff reporting to him. One day the top technical person had fled his office in tears. Because this was consistent treatment that a lot of people had been subjected to I know it was a statement of how he operated, it wasn’t personal even though it was very unpleasant.

I sat at my desk and checked my email, I tidied up the papers on my desk and I decided to waste time online until the time came to commute home. I’d had enough. I knew Derek wasn’t going to change and I knew there was nothing I could do to get him to stop being such a bully.

What did I do next? I decided to accept him as he was without trying to change him and then I asked myself if I was going to tolerate anymore of this aggressive treatment. I decided it was unacceptable and a few weeks later I told Derek I was leaving the company. I told him on one of his good days, it must have been a comedy he’d watched the night before, he was smiling and care free and he couldn’t care less whether I was staying or leaving. We had a good chat and he was his friendly, easy going and fun to be with persona.

Looking back on it now I guess the constant and always ramping up pressure from his boss got to him. It destroyed his peace of mind and caused him to snap. His warm and friendly nature got frayed around the edges and he forgot who he really was. Stress, tiredness and relentless pressure will do that to a person.

We all need to be emotionally healthy if we are going to be happy and at our best when we meet people. When Derek was happy he was the best company you could ever have, someone you’d want all your friends to meet but when he was out of balance he was to be avoided. Make sure you take good care of yourself so you can let your light shine.

The Curse of the People Pleaser

The phone rang. It was Jack, “Hey, Peter! Wanna head into town? I’ve got some shopping to do and I don’t feel like driving all the way there on my own. What do you say?” I went along to help out and together we loaded up the car with the supplies he needed.

Another day Jack called around and wanted me to help him with some work he was doing on the roof of his house so I headed over there with him, we sweated in the afternoon sun and got the job done.

A few weeks later Jack was on the phone again. This time he wanted me to look after his dog for the weekend while he headed out of town for two days of partying. When I said “No, I’d prefer not to!” he was shocked and said he was surprised I wouldn’t help him out. After all it was only a small favor as he put it.

After that I rarely heard from Jack. I’d bump into him from time to time and he was always friendly but somehow always in a hurry. It was then that I woke up and I realised what I’d done – I’d fallen into the trap of being a people pleaser yet again. I was always ready to help but otherwise there was no friendship.

This was years ago and because of my history of being too available and helpful whenever someone asked I can now easily spot the same trait in others. Maybe you’ve had times when you slipped from being a good friend to being a people pleaser…

Do you find it hard to say no when people you hardly know ask for your help? Are you always available to to your friends even when you do so at great inconvenience to yourself? Are you the one always running around helping everyone else but rarely the one others are running to help?

If these patterns sound familiar you may be a people pleaser out of habit. Often we do this when we want to be liked and we know that people will like us sooner and more often if we are helpful and agreeable. And there is nothing wrong with that it’s just that unless you are confident and comfortable saying “No!” when you choose not to be the perfect and always available friend then saying “Yes!” doesn’t mean anything and other people know it even if you don’t yet.

If so called friends drop you like a rock if you are not ready to serve them at a moment’s notice then be thankful. You don’t need “friends” like that and when they leave they make room for people who will appreciate you.

A friend of mine who is a classic people pleaser has paid a high price for his always available and nothing is too much friendship policy. Unscrupulous people, more than once, have borrowed large sums of money from him and never paid it back. He just can’t say no to a friend in need even when these people are not real friends. He can’t see the difference because he needs approval so desperately. The last time I spoke to him his business had failed, his money was gone and he was planning to emigrate in search of new opportunities. Meanwhile his “friend” is driving a Jaguar, eating out everyday and partying like he’s won the lottery.

So you can see, this people pleasing fixation can drain you of time you could be spending with true friends, it can cost you a lot of money and it can leave you feeling used and abused. With that in mind, let’s make sure we minimise the damage these people can cause, let’s spot our people pleasing habit early and avoid people who would see our friendliness and generosity as a weakness.

Three Ways to Be a Good Friend and Not a People Pleaser:

1. Sometimes say no to small requests made by close friends and family. Like I mentioned above if you always say yes it becomes taken for granted and your opinion isn’t considered or valued. That’s why it’s good to keep them guessing and to exercise choice, get used to making the decision to help or not and don’t leave it to others to always decide for you. This way you contribute more to those who matter most because now you are truly committed when you say yes.

2. Be decisive and choose what is good for you and not just the other person when you are dealing with an acquaintance. For someone who is not a close friend you don’t have to bend over backwards to always be there for them whenever they need you. That kind of commitment and trust needs to be two way and it can takes years to develop. If your heart says no then trust it’s wisdom and say no.

Any true friend can and will accept that you’re not always available, it won’t hurt the friendship if you say no to a minor request. If it’s a major request then you’ll need to be more flexible and decide based on how willing and supportive your friend has been for you in the past when you’ve had a major issue to deal with. Regardless of the situations that crop up over time a good friendship is about give and take, it’s not about you always giving out of fear that the friendship will fade away otherwise.

3. Sometimes you need to test the state of a friendship especially if it’s after a run of favors performed by you for your friend. You can do this quite easily: ask you friend to help you out with some things and see what the response is. If you consistently find you don’t get the support and help you need then be unavailable the next time he has a minor request. This is a test. If you’re a habitual people pleaser you might need to do this to assess the state of the friendship in an objective way otherwise you’ll never pause to see if your care and attention is reciprocated. You may also need to learn to ask and to receive help from people, don’t blame others if you always turn down kindness with the excuse that you don’t want to bother anyone.

Over time you’ll notice that some of those so called friends drop away because they saw the friendship as a one way street to benefit them. Again, the sooner you spot these people the better so you can spend less time with them and be less available to help them.

To sum up, only when you appreciate your true worth will you stop being a people pleaser, when that happens you’ll naturally gravitate to people who’ll appreciate you for who you are. However in the meantime bear in mind the points above and make conscious decisions about who you spend time with and what you will and will not do to build and maintain a friendship.

Doing so will put you in the driver’s seat, you’ll have more time for the people in your life who love and appreciate you and you’ll willingly and happily help them out because you love them, not to win their approval because you’ll already know deep down that you have their approval and that it’s not dependant on your availability to run errands and do favors for them.