#howto: Who are you without your business card?

Opinion // posted 24-02-2020

Introduce yourself; what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
This is a common situation used to break the ice during conferences, work, meetings, even at birthdays and weddings. But at some point, we start sounding like a broken record; continuously repeating the same answer. Where we work, what our job title is, where we’re from, and where we live.

But do these things really define who we are?
We started experimenting with different ways of introducing ourselves and decided to unpack it; who am I if I exclude the things that I find less valuable to hear about? What happens when I remove factual data points and dig a little deeper? It was challenging to give a sincere answer, there was something uncomfortable about it. However, we’ve come to realise that it has helped build stronger relationships, in our personal and professional lives.

Today we kickstart 99% of workshops, programmes and training sessions by asking the participants to answer: Who are you without your business card? It’s a great way for groups – regardless of their size - to get to know each other on a deeper level in a short period of time. It takes them beyond the mundane, everyday information.

How it works
You’re in a room filled with people who know little about one another, or perhaps with a team that wants to build stronger ties. Everyone gets into pairs, to answer this one fundamental question: Who are you?

 Answers must exclude the following:
- Your name
- Your job title
- Where you work
- Where you were born/raised
- The roles you have in life, like mother, father, daughter, son

Try to ignore the quizzical faces staring back at you because this is when the magic happens. Think about it: How would you answer without mentioning any of the above? People start talking about their personalities, hobbies, passions, how they’re feeling in that moment, what their likes or dislikes are. There are so many creative ways to answer this question; that go beyond what you do or where you work. It adds that human touch.

 

Long-term
This exercise shows that we’re more than merely a job title and a city name. At Better Future we believe in connecting before you lead. Bringing the human factor into everything we do. We’ve learnt that organisations actually benefit from stripping off the business attire, allowing employees to relate to each other on a deeper level.

This process gives rise to the right company culture that fosters warmth and strength. Where employees can be human; and dare to be vulnerable. Research shows that 88% of employees believe a distinct company culture is important to business success; Employee ratings are 20% higher at companies with strong cultures; Companies with strong cultures saw a 4x increase in revenue growth. This exercise can help rattle the cage and spark conversations that go beyond the surface. See it as a tool to kickstart a transformation process to harness a healthy culture within your organisation. Good for people, purpose and profit.

Short-term
The good news? There are short-term effects too. For teams and individuals. Today, most leaders tend to emphasise their strength, competence, and credentials in the workplace. Research shows that “leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear.” Eliciting fear can have negative effect on company culture if it undermines cognitive potential, creativity or problem solving. So, what if a leader were to show their true colours? Through a simple exercise like: Who are you without your business card.

Sharing a simple, yet personal, answer can build on this deeper connection. This helps establish warmth. According to a growing body of research, warmth is seen as the conduit of influence: it facilitates trust, and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals - a nod, a smile, an open gesture - can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritising warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.

 

The power of trust
In fact, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman conducted a study of 51,836 leaders, showing that only 27 of them were rated at the bottom of the likability scale and were simultaneously rated in the top of overall leadership effectiveness. Meaning the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader are only about one in 2,000.

So, what can we take away from this? That leaders who lack warmth or empathy are less likely to be considered good leaders due to a lack in mutual trust. People within an organisation may comply outwardly with a leader’s wishes, but they’re much less likely to conform privately if they don’t trust them. Meaning they probably won’t adopt the values, culture, and mission of the organisation in a sincere, lasting way.

Trust increases information sharing, openness, fluidity, and cooperation. It also facilitates the exchange and acceptance of ideas and boosts the quantity and quality of the ideas that are produced within an organisation. Most importantly, trust provides the opportunity to change people’s attitudes and beliefs, not just their outward behavior.

The effectiveness of a simple exercise
What’s interesting to note here is that a simple question can have a huge impact. We’re not saying that by answering ‘Who are you without your business card’ all problems will be solved, but it does showcase how a sense of vulnerability and connection can create a shift in communication and the dynamics of a group. It’s a tool to create a safe space to share; to elicit a feeling of mutual trust; to kickstart team building. To eventually build a company culture that makes sense. Resulting in a really good organisation.

Words by Salmaan Sana & May Putman Cramer

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Better Future
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intouch@better-future.com