A small piece of advice I was given before leaving university and starting my career as a civil engineer was that if I was going to be successful in the construction industry, I would need to ‘develop a thick skin’.
It seemed strange at the time as I was around 21 years old and the advice seemed more suitable for someone who was being bullied in a school playground.
As we know, ‘thick skin’ is an invisible, protective (mental) ‘skin’ that lets the undesirable opinions, insults or comments bounce off us and stop us from emotional pain. We are better equipped to mentally and emotionally survive if we have ‘thicker’ skin to protect us.
Anyone who has worked on a construction site will know that it can sometimes resemble a school playground with a culture of name calling and an often visible prejudice between different companies, subcontractors and individuals. The term for this prejudice is often referred to as ‘banter’ on site but depending on the intent behind it, you could quite easily be called ‘bullying’.
At the beginning of my career I was frequently on the receiving end of jokes of being ‘new’ and ‘green’ to construction. I was often ridiculed for being too young to have anything to offer people who have been doing the job longer than I’ve been alive.
As per the advice given to me at university, in a short space of time I successfully grew a thick skin towards anyone and everyone at work. I went from being open and honest, to closed and careful around my coworkers and colleagues.
Moving into in a position of management/leadership also brought its challenges as now my colleagues believed I was even more ‘different’ to them. I learnt that my inexperience equaled vulnerability which meant I was not safe. With an added measure of introversion, my management style in the early days was very ‘laid back’ and best described as ‘avoiding’ and as a result very ‘unsuccessful’.
A New Way Of Thinking….
To influence your staff and teams and help them and yourself get to where you want to be the first thing you have to do is shed the thick skin and get get comfortable being vulnerable. When I say vulnerable, I don’t mean ‘a walk over’.
If you look back to your favourite managers or colleagues, they will be the ones that you shared an emotional connection with that runs far deeper than ‘work’.
The only way I know how to shed the skin or not even develop it in the first place is to learn about yourself and other people. Understand why people do the things they do and respect that due to our experiences (good and bad) we all see the world in a slightly different way. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with any of the ways, its just different.
Through reading and training I began to shed my thick skin when I understood and respected all of the above and that in terms of management, people will have a preconceived idea of how I will treat them based on all the managers they have had previously.
It’s up to us to be bold and shed the thick skin and manage people the way you would want to be managed.