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Politician demonstrates self-disclosure

Watching Andrew Constance cry on The Project as he shared his struggle with trauma after the bush fires in his electorate, was tough viewing.

I knew Andrew a very (VERY) long time ago. We worked in a PR firm together for a couple of years circa the year 2000. I remember watching him speak on the phone, handset covered with his hand and speaking in hushed tones, negotiating with empathy like Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU. If you watch SVU you would know that is a huge compliment. Andrew Constance also looks as good as Olivia does in a dress, but that’s for another blog on getting into the spirit of company parties.

Watching the Project last night, I kept thinking about the role of self-disclosure in interpersonal communication and media interviews.

Self-disclosure is a big part of interpersonal communication, which is an essential part of media interviews that never gets the attention it deserves. It is when you reveal something personal about yourself, intentionally or unintentionally, significant or insignificant. Sometimes its planned, often it is not. However, it is incredibly important to consider in any professional or personal communication setting.

Self-disclosure isn’t easy

Sharing information about yourself, particularly when it is deeply revealing and personal, is incredibly difficult.

Stacked against Andrew in this case is his position as a politician – what will my peers (including the Premier!) think? How might they use this against me? How might I be criticised by the public? Then, there is his gender. There is research that supports the common male stereotype that men are reluctant to speak about themselves and their feelings.

The size of the audience you’re disclosing to matters as well. You are more likely to feel willing to self-disclose in a small group than a large one. Or to a group that you know are more likely to support your disclosure, than a large mass audience that you’re largely unsure of (such as in an interview with mainstream media with an audience of hundreds of thousands).

Personal, relationship and professional risks of self-disclosure should be thought through and planned before making significant self-disclosure. But there are rewards, too.

Sharing is caring

By self-disclosing you can help others. In sharing his experience with trauma and the need for counselling, Andrew may help others feel comfortable seeking the same. He also put a much needed spotlight on the complicated path to recovery for those in bushfire affected areas, letting the public (and pollies!) see just how much time and money it is going to take to help people get back on their feet.

Speaking up would be part of his personal recovery, too

It is known that stress affects our physiological health. This may be exacerbated when we suffer in silence or alone. The effort it takes to keep our tough personal experiences to ourselves combined with trauma – is a stress in and of itself that can lead to physical ailments. Speaking up and sharing our experiences, like Andrew did here, can help alleviate some of the stress that comes with trauma.

Self-disclosure helps create more effective relationships

Self-disclosure helps to achieve closer relationships and more satisfying ones at that. It can deepen your relationship because you allow people to get to know the real you. In doing so, affection is built both ways. So self disclosure helps you become more likeable, too. Think about Andrew’s constituents here, and how his sharing is helping his relationship with the members of his electorate.

Of course, the opposite can happen to if what you’re disclosing is not in line with reality. For example, Andrew did fight for his home and help his community in their time of need. He also did lead by example and put his mental health first by seeking counselling and stepping away for his work for a period of time. If what Andrew disclosed was incongruent with his actions (or perceived actions) – then he would be met with backlash and it would destroy rather than build effective relationships.

Self-disclosing important information should be planned

Because you can’t take it back. It can potentially alter your relationships and other people’s perceptions of you forever. How you disclose, to whom, when and where – all matter and will impact the way your self-disclosure is received, and how you subsequently feel about yourself once it’s done.

Andrew in this case by my assessment is an example of planning and consideration done well.

An example of self-disclosure that could have been much better handled, is actress Jameela Jamil’s recent revelation that she is queer as a means to defend her new TV role. She came out via twitter after she received backlash for being named host of Legendary, a new LGBTQ ballroom dance show. Badly timed and poorly planned – it upset members of the LGBT community, resulted in an avalanche of bad media and caused stress and disappointment for the outspoken actress.

Any disclosure of significance, from a personal or professional standpoint, should be approached carefully. Especially if that disclosure is going to attract media and public attention. If you are unsure as to how to approach it or whether you should at all, seek the advice of a communication professional.

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