The term “covering up” has various meanings. From a communication perspective, I’m referring to holding back from expressing yourself fully to protect or conceal an aspect of yourself from others. For example, do you:

Close yourself off from others in fear of them judging you?

Refrain from speaking up to avoid conflict?

Say “yes” when you want to say “no?”

Evade a question posed to the group to limit your commitment?

Sending mixed messages.

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you might be sending mixed messages to others. You may also feel out of touch with what you truly want or need as your primary focus may be on fitting in, pleasing others, or maintaining the status quo.

Refraining from responding doesn’t necessarily help and may create more problems or misunderstandings. Someone may take your lack of a reply as an agreement and then become disappointed or frustrated when you don’t act upon what they thought was determined. Also, you may become uncomfortable or anxious if your specific interpersonal needs are not met. Your reaction may be similar to when your biological needs are not being met—like getting “hangry” when you’ve waited to eat too long.

The concept of “covering up.”

I recently listened to an Internal Family Systems’ “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity” webinar where the presenters spoke about “covering up” as a strategy through which an individual downplays their identity to blend into mainstream expectations. They introduced Author Kenji Yoshino’s covering types—appearance, advocacy, affiliation, and association-based—all of which showcased how individuals “hide” or “alter” some aspect of themselves to “blend” and “fit in” to societal norms and expectations.

I started to consider my daily interactions and how I express myself. This self-reflection helped me realize how often I didn’t check in with myself before speaking. As a result, I unconsciously negated my interests and adapted to the other person to feel connected.

The “why” behind what we do.

The Enneagram assessment helped me identify the root cause behind my behavior. Since I learned that I was focused on pleasing others to be liked, accepted, and validated, I forgot to ask myself: “What do I need or want?” The reason stemmed from the fear of disappointing, being judged, or upsetting the other person, which was directly associated with feelings of guilt or shame if my choices hurt or let someone else down.

As a result, I fell out of alignment with my “inner truth,” questioning the direction I was headed. For example, even though I don’t “hide” that I’m an introvert and an HSP, sometimes, talking about it can land as an “excuse” or the “butt of the joke.” My strategies to extrovert and perform as “I was expected to” or “was asked of me” worked until I decided I no longer wanted to overexert and exhaust myself for the benefit of others. However, statements like, “I’d rather stay in, be alone, or do nothing,” can sound harsh if said without thought or compassion.

A balanced approach to expressing yourself.

If we’re only focused on our needs, we may come across as aggressive, whereas when we stop and consider what others may need, we can talk through and consider compromise. Learning to assert ourselves effectively and say “no” kindly are vital skills. You can learn more about boosting these capabilities through the EQ-i 2.0® emotional intelligence inventory.

Over time, I’ve begun to appreciate and embrace the paradoxes of wanting to be with others and wanting to be alone. Establishing healthy ways to converse, including “finding my voice,” speaking up, and accepting what-is, enabled me to be open and honest in my communication approach while being empathetic to others and in balance with myself.

Create shared meaning.

Most successful relationships are founded on mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance. To foster reciprocity, both parties need to be “real” and feel safe and comfortable enough to speak directly and truthfully.

Here are a few tips to be more balanced in your communication approach:

  • Share your discomfort. If you’re having a difficult conversation, admit upfront that the topic makes you uncomfortable. Being vulnerable enables the other person to “let their guard down,” be open, and actively listen to what you have to say.
  • Be authentic and kind. The two can coexist, and how you show up and deliver the message will determine how it lands for the receiver. Is your intention to take a compassionate approach or to “stir things up?”
  • Acknowledge and respect differences of opinion. It’s okay to have opposing ideas and differences of opinion, and it all comes down to how you want to be in that moment. When there is a gap or disagreement, pause the conversation. Then you can revisit the primary purpose or objective to decide how best to proceed and seek compromise if relevant.

Harness your YOU-ness and activate your best.

Self-leadership is about getting to know yourself better and applying that knowledge to how you act, think, and feel. To align your heart, mind, and body in your communication, you can use these various assessments as the foundation for professional development. My approach is personalized and customized. Schedule a call to find out more.

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