Social scientists and neurobiologists have validated leaders who demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity in the workplace because such leaders promote “human connection”. This in turn promotes trust, and a “culture of forgiveness” that leads to demonstrably greater satisfaction and performance. Couldn’t we apply a bit of that data to our approach to divorce?
The Harvard Business Review cited social scientist Brené Brown for her work on vulnerability as a “root of social connection.” In Brown’s research, vulnerability does not mean “being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing ‘professional distance and cool ‘with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”
Leaders in the workplace, “are taught to keep a distance and project a certain image….of confidence, competence and authority.” We save our “vulnerability” for “a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night” because we would “never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”
Neuroscience explains that we feel more comfortable around people who are authentic and vulnerable because of a process called “resonance”. It allows us to “read each other’s expressions in very nuanced ways….parts of our brains internally echo what others do and feel. Just by looking at someone you experience them.” Workers relate to leaders who are authentic, vulnerable and create a culture of forgiveness. This results in more satisfied and loyal employees. The research showed that the “personal connection and happiness employees derive from their work fosters greater loyalty than the amount of their paycheck.”
Let’s put that research into the context of divorce. For this blog, let’s set aside the domestic violence cases where my experience is that the exact opposite of the research is true, (i.e., batterers save their worst behavior for home). Divorcing people still have to work and maintain their “appearances” in the outside world. Only now, they don’t have their spouse to confide their vulnerability, and they are not likely to share what is going on with their personal life at work. The worker in the midst of a divorce is arguably at an all-time low in terms of “personal connection.” I’d argue they are in an altered state of consciousness, caught in an intense moral dilemma between their public vow of marriage, “to death do they part” and their acknowledgment that the marriage is no longer working.
Vulnerability, Human Connection, Trust and Forgiveness
So, how can vulnerability, human connection, trust, and forgiveness help in the context of divorce?
In our current culture of the adversarial divorce, it is easy to become isolated, depressed, lonely, afraid, anxious about the future, angry about the past, and down-right mean and bitter. That sounds a lot like grief.
If we choose to, we can collectively start to reframe the divorce process as a time to find and then proudly display strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Moving from the old narrative to the new will take a concerted effort on the part of divorcing couples, and a team of supportive professionals, like those found practicing Collaborative Divorce.
I suggest that those of us involved in divorce (e.g., clients, lawyers, mental health professionals, financial planners, friends and family) take a cue from the workplace leadership research. Let’s aspire to see divorcing couples emerge from the divorce process as leaders in their home lives: “higher performers” because they are operating in an environment of trust and forgiveness for past mistakes.
I want my clients to feel empowered and prepared to face their destiny, open to love again, and capable of trusting and forgiving their former spouse. This may not be possible for every divorcing couple, but I encourage exploration of alternatives to an adversarial battle, including Collaborative Divorce or mediation, to find a model that fits the circumstances.
Vulnerable is the new strong.
Can you recall a time when you actually let your guard down and were surprised by an authentic connection?