The women we’re talking about? Oprah Winfrey, Kate Winslet, and Naomi Osaka.
Recently, each of these three women has shared difficult personal truths with enormous audiences.
We’re talking about the kinds of admissions that take bravery just to admit to oneself–never mind, to share with the world. But in doing so, all three women created powerful, emotional bridges that engendered empathy, and elevated both them and their audiences.
Trust me, this is something to learn from.
Let’s take a look at the brutal truths each acknowledged, characterize each type of communication, and discuss what makes them so potent and effective.
1. Oprah Winfrey
Let’s start with Winfrey, whose new book, What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, is now in its fifth week on the New York Times bestseller list.
Winfrey and her coauthor, Dr. Bruce D. Perry, a renowned brain and trauma expert, first met 30 years ago, which as the Times points out, was right about when she first acknowledged publicly her childhood experience as a survivor of sexual and other abuse.
In the book itself, Winfrey revisits and expands on these “stories from her own past,” as her publisher put it, “understanding through experience the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma and adversity at a young age.”
Winfrey’s truth here is complex, but it’s perhaps best characterized as an acknowledgment of trauma, combined (crucially) with her incredibly inspirational tale of overcoming it.
2. Kate Winslet
Next up, Winslet, who has making the rounds after her her role as a small town detective in the HBO miniseries, Mare From Easttown.
In an interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, Winslet talks about insisting that her appearance not be photoshopped in promotional photos, and her objection the idea of editing out her “bulgy bit of belly” from the film:
“They were like ‘Kate, really, you can’t,’ and I’m like ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back.'”
Listen, I hope that in playing Mare as a middle-aged woman — I will be 46 in October — I guess that’s why people have connected with this character … [T]here are clearly no filters. She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.”
Winslet was roundly praised for insisting that her appearance not be digitally airbrushed, but I think this truth is about more than just being comfortable with your body. Deep inside, it’s about being comfortable with aging-;and with that, the original brutal truth that most people never want to admit: inevitably, none of us lives forever.
3. Naomi Osaka
Finally, Osaka. You’re likely aware of her saga this week at the French Open tennis tournament.
The second-ranked woman tennis player in the world, Osaka withdrew from the tournament after her announcement that she would not do the official press events led to controversy.
Her big, powerful admission ran 28 words, as part of her larger statement on Twitter announcing her decision to withdraw. Heck, she even used the word, “truth” in it:
The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.
Upon hearing her admit the truth about her struggle, Osaka gathered vehement support. In fact, her admission might be the most brutal of these three truths, because it’s an ongoing struggle-;a story for which she doesn’t yet know the ending.
Being the boss
The entire notion of emotional intelligence has become a bit fraught lately. I understand the criticism that it’s been interpreted (maybe even warped) through the prism of labor economics in the early 21st century.
Some people say it’s no coincidence that the study of emotional intelligence gained prominence just as the United States moved sharply from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and as navigating workplaces became perhaps exponentially more challenging.
But, if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re either an entrepreneur or a business owner, or someone who would at least like to be the boss. So, your concerns are a bit different than people trying to make their way through the corporate jungle.
Frankly, you’re more like Winfrey, Winslet, or Osaka.
And that means you’re less interested in this as a “pop psychology … corporate management tool,” as one critic put it, than you are in finding a way to tell compelling stories that engage with audiences: customers, supporters, or other stakeholders.
Although the three admissions we’re discussing here are about different things, I think they have at least three things in common.
First, all three women shared their vulnerabilities from positions of strength. I mean, Oprah is the queen of media; Winslet is one of the best actors of her era, and Osaka, while still at the start of her career, seems destined to be one of the great athletes of her generation.
Thus, that when they admit big, authentic challenges or weaknesses, most people’s reaction is to feel the creation that emotional bridge that we talked about, engendering empathy–not its lesser cousin: pity.
Second, the weaknesses they shared are nearly universal. That’s why we call them brutal truths: they’re not just difficult; they’re representative of things we all have to face in life.
You might remember that a celebrity magazine used to run candid photos of famous people with the slogan, “Stars: They’re just like us!”
These are more serious, and even darker things to admit, but they have the same effect. They remind people that “everyone you meet in life is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Finally, however, they shared the truths in the context of stories: either stories with happy endings, or stories that are still ongoing, but that people can feel helpful about.
This is what most of us do every day: We tell stories. If you think them through carefully, aiming for themes of strength, universality, and vulnerability, you’re a lot more likely to communicate with people effectively.
That’s a big part of what emotional intelligence is all about-;and leveraging it means improving your odds of achieving your goals and developing good relationships.
Don’t forget the free ebook, covering a lot more of this: Improving Emotional Intelligence: 2021.