One of the great pleasures in my life is sitting with smart, savvy business women and talking—really talking—about our work, our lives, and the challenges we share. Often, these conversations take place as part of the LBD Group’s monthly Exclusive Dinner Series. Although there’s always an agenda, it’s hard to predict what will come from the discussion: though you can bet your life it’s going to be brilliant. You can also bet your life on there being a theme
Recently, the emerging theme was humanity. We spoke about what it means to be a human: how it’s messy, mixed up, illogical, often teary and increasingly frazzled. Sitting around the table, we shared stories about our experiences, which are the very essence of being alive.
As we talked—candidly and with no holds (or expletives) barred—something amazing happened. The warmth and connection in the room just skyrocketed. Here was a group of wonderful humans just being honest about the experience of being human.
It got me thinking: why doesn’t this happen more? Because it absolutely should. I reckon there are four reasons we miss the opportunity for moments of humanity.
We’re keeping up appearances.
Scroll through any of your social media feeds and you’ll start to feel the burn of appearances. Here, an always-clean, well-behaved child. There, a green smoothie with extra wheatgrass shot. And over there, another awards night with super glamorous hair and make up. Repeat after me. Appearances are deceiving and rob us of opportunity for connection.
We lack confidence.
It takes courage to say, ‘I’m not doing well, and this is why.’ And it also takes bravery to sit with someone who’s not okay and listen (no, really listen) to how they’re feeling. Remember, tears and mucous are part of being alive:
that’s why tissues were invented. Practice getting comfortable with emotion.
We don’t understand our power.
When problems are complex, or emotions are supercharged, many of us forget that just by being present, we can actually make a really big difference. It’s the basis of helping professions, like counselling.
We don’t get how it fits our business as usual.
Too often, we think, ‘but I’m an [insert important professional title] and I work in [insert paper-pushing role]. This has got nothing to do with me.’ Wrong. It’s got everything to do with you
Much of my work is a policy analyst. In that role, yes, I push a lot of paper and get an important sounding title. But what’s incredible is that there’s also a lot of humanity. In my role, I’ve spent privileged hours listening to stories told by people who are homeless because of a chain reaction of really bad luck. I’ve spoken with women who made the decision to walk away from situations of incredible mental and physical violence, leaving their family a little bit safer but a lot poorer. I’ve sat quietly as parents poured out their hearts about their child’s diagnosis of severe, life limiting disability.
Across these deeply saddening stories, what’s common is how much of a difference humanity makes to the outcome.
People in the throes of extreme vulnerability or crisis remember humanity
It matters. The newly single mum remembers the community support worker who made sure she had some vouchers to buy her children’s schoolbooks and shoes. A person who’s tried everything they can to find employment remembers the Centrelink officer who sits quietly while they cry their heart out, and then systematically cuts through every piece of red tape required to get some benefits flowing.
A friend of mine is a ‘turnaround’ expert: sometimes she is all that’s standing between a struggling business and the street. Technically, she’s working to provide strategic accounting advice; but she knows the technical aspect of her work isn’t as important as the emotional support she provides by standing beside them.
I absolutely believe that it’s our responsibility—as business leaders and as human beings—to put people at the centre of what we do. I’m bringing human back. Who’s with me?
Dr Emily Verstege is a customer experience futurist, speaker, author and mentor to the leadership of Australia’s largest and most exciting agencies. Emily is an expert at capturing and integrating customer voice into business strategy and governance frameworks.