Hiding at work


“Hiding” at work is an avoidance strategy. And women can be very creative about it

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Learn to handle criticism, rather than hiding from it, advises Viv Groskop

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By Viv Groskop on

I was recently in a meeting with a group of young women heading up a conference for millionaire and billionaire entrepreneurs. They came across as fearless and articulate. They couldn’t have seemed more self-assured or confidence-inspiring. But, during our conversation, something came up that keeps coming up for me in conversations about work. When I mentioned the idea of “hiding” and how I notice lots of women doing this, they identified immediately. Yes, there were ways in which they held back or even did too much work on projects to avoid criticism. Yes, they put off certain decisions and calls because they were afraid of getting things wrong. Yes, they see other women “hiding”, too.

The fact is, we all do these things. Because we’re trying to protect ourselves and get everything right. “Hiding” is a term used by the US coach Tara Mohr and it’s been adopted by a lot of other work gurus. It’s the idea that when you feel (sometimes secretly) daunted or intimidated by the task ahead of you, you find ways to “hide” from it. “Hiding” takes a lot of different forms and women can be very creative at coming up with them.

Hiding could mean deciding that you need to apply for an MBA before you set up your own company. (Instead of just setting up your own company.)

Hiding could mean deciding that you need to apply for an MBA before you set up your own company. (Instead of just setting up your own company.) It could mean taking a course in graphic design before launching a website. (Instead of just launching a WordPress site this afternoon.) Or it could mean quoting lots of other people in a talk because you don’t think that what you have to say is important enough. (Instead of trusting your expertise and allowing other people to scrutinise it or even criticise it.) It could even mean avoiding decisions completely because you’re afraid of making a mistake, when, deep inside, you know it’s more important to get on and make the mistake, because then you’ll have more information and a better chance of getting it right next time.

We even hide from talking about hiding. I didn’t want to write this article because I wasn’t sure people would identify with the idea or whether I could express it clearly enough. I tried to find a book about it, which I could quote from, instead of having to explain it myself. But then I realised I was trying to hide from hiding and that really is the definition of hiding a bit too much. (There is, by the way, a good chapter on it in Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big, which features exercises and questions.)

The trouble with hiding (and men do it, as well as women) is that it can be the mark of conscientiousness – you can be very busy and effective while still hiding. It can seem like a smart move – maybe you’re right to wait for the perfect moment to launch your website? But we all know what it really is: procrastination, perfectionism and insecurity dressed up as diligence and – often – overwork.

It takes balls to come out of hiding and say: “Is this OK? Does this website work? Will you buy stuff from my company? Do you understand what I’m saying in this presentation? Is this a crazy idea or do you understand me?” Often, we don’t want to hear any negative answers to these questions, so we ward them off by making sure we never have to hear them – delay the website until it’s perfect; blame someone else’s methodology for the company launch; delay the announcement until enough people in the office have checked it over. The worst thing about coming out of hiding? You have to listen to other people’s criticism. The best thing about it? You have to listen to other people’s criticism. Opening up that conversation is so much better than never having it. Come out from behind the bushes – it’s going to be fine.


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