Return to site

Professional Intimacy - Seeing humanness as well as worthiness

 ‘I was asked to be part of a project team. From the start I was referred to as their ‘additional resource’. I didn’t feel like a part of the team at all, just a body to fill a role. I need connection to do my job well. It wasn’t long before I went elsewhere’. (quote from a real person)

The dehumanising of our corporate language is a sad mirror of the actual experience of many people working for organisations. Creating an environment and culture of adaptability and flexibility is the aim of many organisations yet in doing so many are forgetting that with high challenge must come high support.

Professional intimacy is a deliberately incongruous pairing of words. It springs from the concept of Ferocious Warmth leadership – leaders who are focussed on not only excellent results but also excellent relationships. Ferocious Warmth leaders are aware of the daily dance required to lead well. The dance moving between the head and the heart depending on the context.

Professional intimacy helps us bridge the head and the heart of professional relationships. When we build this concept, it helps the more aloof, results-only driven leader, who tends not to connect with people at any emotional level, but stays in the cognitive, logical mode, into a leader who recognises the inherent worth, hopes and motivations of individuals. At the other end, professional intimacy helps more relationship, heart driven leaders balance also focussing on the outcomes, results and professional expectations. Research continually highlights that a team and leadership with emotional intelligence and competency has a more profound impact on outcomes than having a team of brilliant people who don’t or can’t connect. It is the balance of both – results and relationships that moves us to high performance.

Professional intimacy is about taking down the barriers to deep collaboration and high performance. These barriers are often linked more to human issues than systemic. Territorialism, ego, lack of listening and authentic dialogue, focus on competition rather than collaboration all lead back to a lack of connection, empathy and partnership. When people step into professional intimacy the willingness to see each other’s’ humanness first sets the foundation for relationships that have the trust to delve into the transformative conversation. Our first level of safety in a team is one of belonging. It is an emotional response. We are social creatures and feeling included and valued because of our humanness first and foremost, rather than what skills and ‘usefulness’ we bring to the team allow us to move to greater contribution and growth.

People thrive when they feel seen and valued and leaders set the scene for this environment . When we thrive at work, we are engaged, happier, healthier – and we think better! When we feel connected and safe to contribute and challenge, our pre-frontal cortex is flooded with the chemistry that sets of higher levels of cognition leading to better problem solving, decision making and collaboration.

Here are some first steps:

Let people share their story
Every professional has been on a fascinating journey to where they are. It is often a combination of professional and personal decisions that have led them to this team, this context. When leaders take the time to get to know the people they lead on a deeper level and encourage them to share their story, the conversations can open into a transformative space. Undiscovered skills, interests and motivations are uncovered and connections made.

Tell your story
Professional intimacy is not a one-way street. Sharing our personal and professional stories help others see us authentically and pave the way for greater understanding about our learning and challenges. It humanises us and assists people seeing us as ‘like’ them rather than not.

Share your failings
A learning culture transforms a team. When a team sees the leader as a learner, exploring what happened and what needs to happen differently in the future, the culture changes from blame to growth. Stepping into professional intimacy is about people seeing OUR humanness as well.

Courage and Kindness
Professional intimacy is when leaders have the courage to raise the bar yet do so with kindness and empathy. Brené Brown’s famous quote of ‘Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind’ from her book ‘Dare to Lead’ has helped many a heart driven leader understand the need to be clear about expectations. Most professionals also want a leader who has the courage to stretch them – but do so with kindness rather than judgement.