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Every person has his or her own frame of reference (assumptions and attitudes) about relationships with other people, whether business or personal. Some walk out the door in the morning with the assumption that the world is generally a safe place, people are generally nice, and that it's OK to be whoever they authentically are.
Others operate under the paradigm that the world is dangerous, people are generally out to get them and that job #1 is to prevent them (the enemy) from having the opportunity to do so. When operating under the paradigm of threat people make assumptions like:
- I can tell they are lying because they're moving their mouth.
- They'll take advantage of any sign of weakness to overpower me or make me look bad.
- Everybody else is more competent than me (or smarter or richer) and I hope nobody figures that out.
The defensive, self-protective position creates behavior like:
- Hoarding resources or information.
- Avoidance of other people.
- Calling attention to other people's flaws in an attempt to distract attention from one's own.
- Taking a proactive attack position to be able to make the first strike rather than feel vulnerable.
- Spreading misinformation (gossip.)
- Collecting a cadre of allies for the purpose of defending against or attacking a threat.
Let's say you recognize that you operate under the paradigm of threat in certain situations. Just because you think they're against you doesn't mean they really are. Chances are pretty good that it's not even about you. What would happen if you would test your assumption that the world is out to get you?
If you decided to behave as though the setting and/or other people were not threatening in some way you might:Behavior tends to generate responses that are more of the same. This means that if you exhibit helpful or friendly behavior you are more likely to receive helpful and friendly behavior back. It's the natural law of reciprocity.
- Share information more freely.
- Choose to interact with people even when you're not forced to.
- Let people get to know you as a person, not just as a job description.
- Relax and enjoy your day more.
- Be able to focus on your work product rather than on other people and what they are doing.
If you think that you absolutely need your game face at all times, if you are in a situation where you are experiencing a continuous threat, you may be well advised to change your setting. Go somewhere else - not every person is a good match for every culture or every interpersonal situation.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain a game face all day long, and despite your efforts to paper over your real feelings, chances are that you won't really be fooling anyone. They will be able to sense that you are not being authentic, and that can erode their trust in you. Their concern about your real feelings and opinions can cause them to put their game face on too - and then you have a snowball of mistrust and cover-up.
One last thought - If the feelings of defensiveness follow you from situation to situation it's an indicator that you might hold habits of thought (lack of trust, insecurity) that you need to put to rest. Otherwise you will have to carry your game face (and inauthenticity) wherever you go.