Why You Want to Be Thin-Skinned

Energetic connection from thin skin
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In her essay collection, Jenn Shapland explores Thin Skin — “To be thin-skinned is to feel keenly, to perceive things that might go unseen, unnoticed, that others might prefer not to notice.”

In our desire to feel safe and be seen as competent, we develop thick skin so we don’t feel vulnerable to judgement. The noise in our heads when we worry about what to say, how to say it, and if we crossed the line destroys the open, spontaneous flow of a conversation. A sheath forms to protect us from the pain of judgements and hurtful remarks, but then also blocks us from fully hearing and seeing others.

There is strength in being sensitive, liberated from this sheath that constricts connection. This strength increases the possibility that conversations will be transformational.

What Keeps us Thick-Skinned

I can always tell when viewing a coaching session if the coach is worried about doing the coaching right or making sure something important happens during the session. The flow is choppy.

Either the coach seems a bit impatient to drive the conversation forward before there is a verbally shared understanding of the client’s perspective, or the coach is afraid to move into the partnership role thinking the client must dump all of their thoughts on the table before asking the generic generally hollow question, “So what do you want out of our time together?”

I say the question is hollow because clients often say or infer what they want that is not happening now early in their narrative. It is better to try to confirm what you heard them say they wanted or try to paint the picture of what the reverse of the negative scenario might look like. They will feel seen and heard before responding to what you offer. Then you can use their response to weave into the inquiry confirming what they want to work toward in your time together.

Regardless if you are worrying you might say something wrong or you are impatient to get results, your intrusive thoughts thicken your skin, limiting your listening. I always say, “Thinking is the enemy of the coach.” Even if you aren’t coaching, no matter the role you are acting in, paying attention to your thoughts impacts the effectiveness of your communications.

How to Thin Your Skin

  1. Be aware of your habit of bringing the attention of the conversation to yourself – Notice when you start sentences with the words, “I think” or “I feel” or insert the words, “for me” in your responses. Is sharing what you think or feel helpful? When you shift your focus to yourself you cut off connection to others. If you absolutely feel the need to shift the focus to your experience, follow up your statement with the word “because” and then explain what has led you to your belief or evaluation of the present moment. Then let go of any expected reactions so you can be open to altering your perspective when others share the reasoning for their ideas.
  2. Talk to your stories – After a conversation where you felt you were debating more than interacting, or didn’t feel heard, list out the beliefs that shaped the points you wanted to share. What part of your opinion is a bias that you staunchly held, especially biases without evidence, before you entered the conversation? Are you willing to peel away your preconceived notions to learn something new? Biases are based in the illusion that what you see is absolute and there is no other way to define what is happening or being said.
  3. Dissolve the separation so you can flow with conversation – When you are playing a favorite game without feeling competitive or enjoying entertainment with someone, you are socially flowing with the interaction. In the book, Subtraction, the authors Sujith Ravindran, Fabio Salvadori, and Elliot Leavy say presence is more about what you unbind and release in your mind more than remembering to practice a specified skill. Your open mind then invites others into the conversation as a collective experience instead of a volley of ideas.
  4. Feel respect and reverence for the human who is on their own journey of life – David Brooks writes in his book, How to Know a Person: The art of seeing others deeply and deeply being seen, “We are all equal on the level of our souls.” Brooks says if you meet a person with infinite dignity, you open yourself up to fully connecting with their precious soul. Then he says, be “attentive, sensitive, and unhurried” to create the relaxed state where people feel not only safe, but comfortable being themselves with you.
  5. Maintain your thin skin by not having to be or do anything other than letting the person know you see them and want to know more. You can then use your coaching skills of summarizing, encapsulating key ideas in a paraphrase, parsing out separate and sometimes conflicting ideas, and asking questions to better understand meaning, desires, and what they are willing to change. Feeling no judgment from you, they are likely to share their story, insights, and discoveries as the conversation flows. You will see them grow before your eyes.

2 thoughts on “Why You Want to Be Thin-Skinned”

  1. Thank you for sharing this.
    I had built a thick skin in my early years. Mine was made of rational thinking. I could think myself out of any bad situation. But I could not think myself into the beauty of real human connections.
    Coaching helped me see the thick skin I had built so that, one by one, I started shedding those excessive layers and finding my presence.
    Still working on it, but I’m making progress!
    Thanks also for citing our book.

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