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The Feelings Flywheel: A Catalyst Model

Why overcoming the fear of being vulnerable in the workplace is critical for success‍.
Sydney Strader
November 18, 2020

In a recent podcast episode on NPS I Love You, Ben Winn and I discussed a framework for accelerating your impact at work rooted in being vulnerable. Since the podcast launched, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reception we received and the eagerness from many to learn more about how to find comfort in being vulnerable, the importance of trust, how trust leads to more effective communication, and how—ultimately—this all combined drives impactful outcomes for you personally and professionally. 

We call this the "Feelings Flywheel." The purpose of this blog post is to dive deeper into each section of the flywheel and hopefully provide some tactical advice to get you starting to spin this flywheel for yourself.

The Feelings Flywheel
The Feelings Flywheel has four elements:
  1. Vulnerability - Bringing your full authentic self to work every day
  2. Trust - Earning the trust of others and giving your trust to others
  3. Communication - Clearly communicating your feelings, thoughts, and relevant information
  4. Outcomes - Achieving your goals (and helping others achieve theirs)

Each of these elements, when properly leveraged, has clear benefits. However each has its own set of unique challenges as well. I will explore each of these in the sections below, and if you have questions or comments, I invite you to tag us on Linkedin or Twitter so that our team can respond to you and the broader community can benefit from your thoughts.

Flywheel Part One: Vulnerability 

What does it mean to be vulnerable in the workplace?

Being vulnerable in the workplace means showing your true authentic self. Your beliefs, your feelings, your experiences. You don’t mask who you are or what you believe in to cater to an audience. You don’t alter who you are with the intent of enhancing one's perception of you (you’re perfect! You always get it right). You communicate your shortcomings as a sign of strength and self-awareness and aren’t controlled by fear to avoid sharing this with others. 

Like communication in general, the timing of when you choose to be vulnerable can be impactful. Dropping some vulnerability bomb out of context unrelated to the topic at hand is going to be a miss. Listen to the others around you. Intently hear what they’re saying, how they’re feeling and then ask yourself whether there is any common ground or experience you can share that feels relatable. It’s not about shifting the narrative to be about you. It’s about helping others feel like they’re not alone, inspiring them by sharing insights on how you managed to push through and letting them know you’re there to support. 

How can you begin showing more vulnerability?

Take yourself out of your “work” mindset for a moment and challenge yourself to think of a time you were vulnerable with a friend or family member. What was that experience like for you? For them? What did you learn from it? What gave you the courage to be vulnerable in that moment? How did you feel afterwards?

Now, think of a time you had the opportunity to be vulnerable at work. Why did you choose not to be vulnerable? What lessons could you have applied from above to dig deep and find the courage in that moment? 

Set an intention that the next time you’re in a work setting and feel an opportunity to be vulnerable, you’ll share more than you may have been comfortable to do so in the past. 

As an example, you may be feeling really overwhelmed at the moment, low energy and having a hard time focusing. Don’t be afraid to share this with a colleague. You could say: 

“If I come across as feeling distracted it’s not my intention. Truthfully I'm feeling overwhelmed at the moment, a little burnt out and I find it more challenging than normal to focus. I appreciate you bearing with me.” 

Embrace the discomfort as an opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone. You will learn something new and that ultimately means you’re growing. 

Why does vulnerability lead to trust?

We all crave human connection. In order to establish that connection, relatability is required. No human can relate on the grounds of being perfect or never failing yet many people, especially in the workplace, put up these walls to project as though they are perfect; that they have never failed. 

This wall displaying a lack of vulnerability is what builds mistrust. You’re not being your true authentic self because we all know we’re human and that means we have imperfections. It also means we all fail at times. Those that demonstrate courage and bravery in being open about their shortcomings are the ones that open themselves up to establish that human connection with others, rooted in relatability, which solidifies trust. 

Flywheel Part Two: Trust

How do you build trust? 

Building trust comes down to honesty and delivering on what you say you’re going to do. Honesty means always conveying what you truly think and feel, never altering your true beliefs to influence how others will perceive you. Consistency and repetition strengthens trust. 

Do you need to earn trust or is it yours to lose?

One of my personal core values is “always assume good intent” which is why I’m firm that my trust is yours to lose. 

Lack of trust and negativity in general consumes an EXCESSIVE amount of energy in a very non-constructive way. Energy that if you assumed good intent out of the gate could be reinvested in far more meaningful, impactful areas. 

In my career, I have unfortunately encountered those who displayed the opposite belief. This had a negative impact on me. So many cycles wasted trying to “show my worth” just to earn their trust even though I had never received feedback to indicate I had acted in a way to be untrustworthy. The silver lining? Being on the receiving end of this poor experience only further solidified my firm belief that trust is yours to lose and that this is a value I want to uphold myself to in an effort to never have anyone be on the receiving end of the poor experience I had. 

Why does trust lead to improved communication?

When there is a lack of trust you withhold thoughts, feelings, perspectives that are very likely the solution that’s needed. Withholding this ultimately drives improper next steps as it’s rooted in unsurfaced misalignment. This misalignment will 99.99% of the time result in frustration, errors, etc down the line nearly guaranteeing you won’t drive the intended outcomes you’re after. 

When you trust someone you can speak freely. Speaking freely allows everyone to understand facts based on personal feelings and perspectives. Understanding the facts allows everyone to effectively communicate and work towards alignment based on the truth and not misperceptions. 

Flywheel Part Three: Communication

Why is communication so often a barrier?

From my experience the two most common reasons are...

  1. We don’t actively listen. Instead we’re often thinking about our response as opposed to being present and truly investing in hearing, seeing and feeling what someone is sharing. Being present and ingesting all that is being given to us and then responding allows us to communicate in a far more direct, intentional way. 
  2. We’re afraid of what others will think of us and we all strive to be seen in the best possible light. We intentionally convey our thoughts and feelings based solely on the audience and how they’ll perceive us, not on our true, authentic feelings. 

From my experience, this behavioral trait links back to early childhood. Think back to elementary school and a subject you didn’t thrive in. Mine was math so I’ll use this as the example. In math class, I sure as heck wasn’t putting up my hand to answer a question if I wasn’t 110% certain I knew the answer. Why? Because I feared what my classmates and teacher would think of me if I got it wrong. “I’m stupid, I’m not smart. I’m never going to succeed” The self sabotage would be endless. Furthermore, this behavior was encouraged. Those who always knew the answers would be celebrated and often the go-to hand raisers while others suffered in silence. Lord forbid I found the courage to raise my hand and try to answer the question. If I got it wrong, the response was “Nope. That’s not right. Who else knows the answer?” 

Gone are the days of math class (thank the lord!). If you have an idea or perspective SHARE IT! Holding it back does more harm than good. 

How do you become a more effective communicator?

Take a moment to think of your friends, family members, colleagues and influential public figures. Who stands out to you as an effective communicator? Why? What is it about how they communicate that feels effective to you? 

Now, think of those you’ve encountered in your life that you view as an ineffective communicator. What did they do that made their communication feel ineffective? How would you like to have seen them communicate differently in order for it to have been more effective? 

So often we have the answers in front of us based on our own personal experiences. Study your experiences. Reflect on them. Store your learnings and take action rooted in the communication styles you’ve found to resonate, steering clear of those less successful. 

Lastly, make it a routine discipline of yours to always ask for feedback from others. Did you feel I communicated that effectively? What did you like about how I communicated this? Why? What would you like to see me do differently next time?

Why does improved communication lead to stronger outcomes?

Facts = forward motion. If facts aren’t present and everyone’s operating off of misperceptions, you’ll forever be in the cycle of 1 step forward, 2 steps back. Facts provide something truly legitimate you can work through with others. Doing so ultimately drives outcomes. If the facts aren’t on the table and everyone’s working off of misperceptions you’ll forever be in a state of misalignment and significant friction always arises as a result. 

Flywheel Part Four: Outcomes

What is the biggest mistake someone can make when trying to drive outcomes?

Doing it alone. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed a good number of people put their elbows up and take “ownership” of their recipe for success. It was like they patented this and it was off-limits to all. Yet when I look at those who I believe to be very successful, there is a common trait, they’re inclusive. They don’t hoard their learnings strictly for themselves. They don’t try to solve problems alone. They don’t refrain from sharing information in hopes of leaving others in the dust while they propel themselves. 

The outcome of those who are inclusive? The breadth of their impact is FAR more significant when they take the inclusive approach. Here’s a common example I’ve seen…

CSM #1: Solid CSM. Very good at what they do supporting their 40 customers valued at $2M. They produce strong retention and growth rates. They don’t proactively share their learnings. Are often labeled the “lone wolf.”

Impact: 1 CSM. 40 customers. $2M.

CSM #2: Solid CSM. Very good at what they do supporting their 40 customers valued at $2M. They consistently and proactively share their learnings with their 6 teammates.

Impact: 7 CSM’s X 40 customers each = 280 customers total. With each book of business valued at $2M per CSM that equates to $14M. 

Suffice to say, sharing your learnings and operating inclusively can allow you to broaden your impact significantly with very little overhead. Some serious ROI right there!

How can you determine what other people’s desired outcomes are?

You ask :) It sounds simple but it’s true. You make the effort by reaching out, setting up time, asking what they’re focused on driving and aligning on whether there’s something you can do to help. 

The beauty of Customer Success is that there is ALWAYS something you can do to help because at the core, it is your customers who have the answers. Sales,Product, Marketing, Engineering. You name it! Every department benefits from learning more about the company's customers. 

Going back to our example above, the breadth of your impact and reach becomes significantly larger when you start to expand your communication cross-functionally, driving alignment across your business and breaking down the many silos that often exist. 

Why do outcomes lead to vulnerability (back to where we started)?

Outcomes lead to vulnerability in two ways. If someone was vulnerable with you, trusted you, communicated clearly with you, and they achieved their desired outcomes, the "risk" that they took will have been validated and they will in the future want to be even MORE vulnerable with you to continually drive desired outcomes.

If however, the desired outcome is not achieved, this is an opportunity for everyone involved to show vulnerability, discuss what went wrong and why, take responsibility for the situation, and demonstrate that through vulnerability, trust and strong communication you gave it your absolute best. Lessons were learned and mistakes won’t be repeated. Authenticity goes a very long way with people.

Outcomes (good or bad) bring experience. Experience brings you a story to share. A story has the opportunity to be conveyed in the lens of being vulnerable, especially when outcomes don’t go 100% according to plan. By sharing your learnings you display vulnerability. Vulnerability as we know builds trust. Trust leads to improved communication and improved communication leads to driving outcomes. Outcomes are at the core of the impact you produce, the #1 theme I hear from everyone professionally is “I want to have an impact.”

Closing Thoughts

Changing behaviors takes time. Don’t expect a swift shift overnight. Progress over perfection (remember we’re human - perfection doesn’t exist. Own that). Do 1 action this week that challenges you to be vulnerable with someone at work. This could be:

  • Expressing that you don’t know the answer to something
  • Sharing that you’re feeling burnt out
  • Opening up about something you’re struggling with personally and how that’s impacting you at work.  

Reflect on how it feels to do this, how it was received, and how you felt after. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. Trust me, improved communication and impactful outcomes are coming your way. The Feelings Flywheel is yours to spin. You got this!

Better relationships. Less churn.

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