What It Takes to Unlock Deeper Relationships

Relationships usually start with affinity: we work together, we live near each other, we both enjoy the same hobby or we exercise at the same gym. They deepen as we validate one another (implicitly or explicitly): we appreciate each other, we listen to each other, we show acts of kindness or we inflate each other’s egos. The deepest personal and professional relationships, though, reach a third level: true acceptance.

Well, you say, I’ve had long-term productive relationships that operate quite well at the first two levels of relationship depth! And it’s true that commitment can occur at any of these three levels. Connection, however, gets stronger as relationships go deeper.

Level three, true acceptance, only happens after people show up as they really are. This is, of course, hard to do because it means you have to risk being rejected.

Everyone hides who they really are in one way or another. We go along to get along, we project the ideal image of ourselves, we find ways to numb our pain or we conform to the culture around us.

It’s a completely human response. Unfortunately, it keeps us from forging deeper relationships. You can’t have true acceptance if you aren’t putting forward your true appearance.

broken reflection2

Have the Courage to Confront Yourself

Do you want to get to that level?

The hard work of showing up as you really are depends on the hard work you have to do on the inside. Recently I wrote about the seven “selfies” that build bravery and heart. These areas of self-development are critical for leadership. To reveal true appearance, we need to add an eighth selfie: Self-Confrontation.

Self-confrontation is the relentless and courageous exploration of our own behaviors, choices and motives.

Much has been said in recent years about the power of vulnerability. Vulnerability can mean that we are open to being hurt. Vulnerability can mean that we admit to something that’s difficult to reveal, like our emotions. While those forms of vulnerability are important, the highest form of vulnerability is self-confrontation in front of others. It’s being able to say:

You might reject me for this, but I’ve realized something about myself. I have been defensive/emotionally unavailable/prejudiced/materialistic/judgmental/thoughtless/a poor listener/unhelpful/unkind/lax at giving my best effort.

Self-confrontation leads to self-definition (getting clear about who we really are and solid about what we really value). And self-definition leads to connection, because A) it’s much easier to connect with someone when you understand them clearly, and B) the courage of self-confrontation is attractive.

I’m trying to do self-confrontation in these posts each week. Some might say that I’m “too hard” on myself or “too vulnerable.” I’m grateful to all of the people, though, who have connected with me through these posts and our shared challenges in being human. And, I’ve found that, after three years of self-confrontation in many of these posts, I’m clearer and more solid in who I am.

Do you desire greater relationship connection at work or in your personal life? Take a deep breath and get real with yourself about who you really are.



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  • Doug
    March 4, 2016 at 9:33 am

    Love this article, Matt!

    • Matt Norman
      March 4, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Thank you, Doug! I’m glad you appreciated it.