We all have a different sense of personal privacy. Five years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer (now cancer-free!), I had no need to keep the news private. To the contrary, I saw myself as part of a community—one that could support me and that I could help by sharing my experience. As a creator of dozens of products that make it easier for people to share details of their life and experiences, I was struck by Ayanna Pressley’s recent reveal. Ms. Pressely, the Congresswoman from Boston, was brave enough to bare her soul and her bald head in a most public manner. Despite her sadness, loss, and self-consciousness over the loss of her hair, Ms. Pressley spoke candidly about her recent diagnosis of Alopecia and the complexity of her feelings. Choosing what to share isn’t always a decision. Sometimes it depends on who’s asking.
When people share details of who they are, they build intimacy, connection and trust. And, they invite others to be honest and transparent in return. The reward is deeper relationships, which is also tied to improved health and longer life.
A relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. One study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity…. The health benefits of connecting with others include relieving harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. ” ~ Harvard Medical School Publishing “The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships,” Updated August 2019
What inhibits us from sharing Pressley-style? I can think of over a dozen reasons:
Over time, secrecy becomes habitual and detrimental. At work, the danger is that we get so accustomed to closing ourselves in and protecting our secrets that we don’t let our colleagues get to know us. We forgo the development of healthy relationships and strong teams. After all, teamwork depends on communication, respect, trust, and the ability to solve problems together. Moreover, we fail to build the groundwork necessary to deal with conflicts when they arise.
The fastest and easiest way to start sharing is by asking a question. Not sure what to ask? Start with these:
Discussion-starter questions are readily available in apps, online, on Thumballs and in the form of conversation decks like UNZIP-it!. Commit to share a little more about who you are and you’ll reap the benefits. As Ms. Pressley explained, since her Alopecia journey started, she feels most like herself when she’s not wearing a wig. Perhaps you too will feel better after unloading a few of your closely held secrets.