When we talk about values we enjoy when it comes to people, things that often come up are kindness, approachability, warmth, humor, a connection and openness to others and the world around them (often described as ‘lighting up a room’), and a willingness to include those around them in whatever is going on. These are pretty globally attractive characteristics, and those who display them are frequently well-loved and respected wherever they go.
In business, however, I feel as though there is a disconnect from embracing these same values. Kindness becomes weakness.There is a fear that making your business approachable will somehow lead to being taken advantage of by customers (or worse yet, ignored). People are afraid that being open to others will lead to competitors stealing their ideas, or that somehow the company will be ‘exposed’ as less than it claims, and that will lead to something drastic.
These insecurities are quite human and understandable, when we’ve been taught in business (and in our personal lives) that we must portray an image of a secure, independent and successful entity who is not reliant on anyone at all times, or risk losing social status.
What we’re coming to understand is that ‘projecting an image’ is a sure way for people to want to keep their distance. I’m sure everyone reading this knows at least someone who may be a good person underneath, but could commonly be described as someone who ‘tries too hard’ or is ‘always on’. When you think about your reaction to that person, it’s probably something approaching pity, rather than an honest inclination to connect, engage and have a valuable exchange with that person. I’m sure everyone can think of companies (and in fact entire industry trends) that are trapped in fear.
The interesting thing about the world we live in is that those entities are brought into stark relief, as more and more places are embracing a new value of openness, and finding that success follows shortly thereafter. More importantly (I think), the public nature of these interactions allows for people to share in those successes. As follower counts grow for companies that embrace openness like JetBlue, Zappos, Starbucks, they are finding that their goals are being cheered on by the public. People actually want these companies to make money. This would be so far removed from reality even ten years ago as to be absurd.
So, how can we work with companies rooted in fear to open them up to the opportunities? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I would imagine it begins by showing them the effectiveness of a more human approach, and talking out their fears with them. As with anything in life, the antidote to fear is love and compassion. To those change agents among us, are you approaching your clients this way, to address, alleviate and walk them through their fears? If not, it might be an interesting exercise.