How to Display Vulnerability Properly
“Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe that vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.” - Brene Brown
Have you been told boys don’t cry? If so, it may have been bad advice with good intention.
What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the word “feelings”?
Most of the time they may be related to softness or weakness, and it doesn’t make sense.
Joy is a feeling, and it doesn’t mean softness or weakness. Isn’t the hero feeling joy when he wins the battle? Is he weak? Yet, that hero also has weaknesses. Even Achilles had his heel.
The hero also feels fear, anger, and many other emotions. Yet, he is strong because he takes action in spite of his fears. He knows he has weaknesses, but he relies on his strengths to overcome obstacles. I’m not talking about the heroes you see in the movies or books. Those are the ones they’ve been selling to us and don’t exist.
I’m talking about your mother, your father, your family, and the heroes that surround you. Everyone around you is a hero fighting a battle that you know nothing about, and everyone is trying to hide that battle from everyone else.
Hiding that battle is extra work, hiding that battle is preventing you from understanding yourself and your emotions. Hiding that battle is not letting you understand what moves you and the stimuli you should empower.
On the other hand, sharing that battle doesn’t mean involving anyone and everyone in your struggles. Sharing that battle is not an excuse or an opportunity to complain and blame. Showing your struggles is about embracing the fact you will never be perfect, but you are willing to work on yourself to improve daily and become the best version of yourself.
We want to help you be vulnerable to share and create value.
Vulnerable Men Don't Overshare
There is a fine line between being vulnerable and oversharing. We usually figure out the line after we say something which in hindsight we should have kept to ourselves. All of us have been there where we disclosed too much. It could be an embarrassing story, your partying past, the far right or left political opinion you hold, or a negative remark about a co-worker.
After we overshared, we become resistant to opening up in the future. There is the problem. We need to hold our tongue to be gentlemen and gentlewomen. There are certain items best held to conversations with our closest friends and family, and even then, we should be careful. This does not mean being “fake,” instead it is a tactful technique which adds to our personal brand.
Don’t be mistaken, we should be vulnerable, yet we need to be discerning on where and when to be vulnerable. For example, this article is for professionals, and a good display of vulnerability is to describe the times I have failed in my career.
- There was a time I was an “event coordinator” with a non-profit and my friends and I from that time still laugh about the “event which shall not be named” because of how terrible it was on all fronts.
- How about the time I accidentally sent a newsletter out, on behalf of a client, with incorrect information to 10,000 individuals.
- It gets better, when I first started doing web development, I deleted the homepage of my employer at the time, seriously . . . the home page!
I could go on with failures from my career, and these show my humanity. These are moments where I learned valuable lessons. Just with the above, I learned to not do events with close friends, have someone else read newsletters before they are sent, and always backup CSS/HTML.
Almost weekly I meet people who congratulate me on my two businesses and “accomplishments,” yet they have no idea the failures and struggles I go through weekly. I strive to be vulnerable in my writing to show others I fail frequently and learn from my mistakes. Constant improvement is the reason my clients see successful results.
Pause for a moment, notice how the above are admissions of vulnerability, but they stay away from topics which are better kept in separate conversations. Knowing when to share sensitive items is a skill which takes time develop. Here is another example, the BizLatte team went through uncomfortable conversations before launching. We shared personal aspects of our lives which we will not publicize.
Why did we have these discussions?
Simple, to grow together and build a strong team. You want to have these conversations, but only in the appropriate time. Wait to get to know people, make sure you do not overtly offend, and most importantly think about the other person. Be vulnerable with your team only when it's appropriate.
Until then, be vulnerable within reason and cultivate a skill of being appropriately authentic.
It is true that we have to identify our weaknesses and work on them. But what will take us to the next level is to empower our strengths.
There is a fine line between limiting your weaknesses and trying to transform a weakness into a strength. We can’t be good at everything.
Allowing myself to show weakness is one of my weaknesses. Yet, we shouldn’t use weaknesses as an excuse.
Being analytical and not letting emotions cloud my judgment is one of my strengths. Have you ever watched The Imitation Game? There is a scene, the one where they finally crack Germany’s encrypted code from World War II, that shows what I’m trying to describe as a strength.
They could’ve used the code to stop an attack, but if they did then the enemy would know they solved the code. The main character, Alan, decided a small sacrifice made sense in order to save more people. Emotions were clouding the judgment of most of the team. Yet, because Alan was more analytical he could see the big picture and make an important decision.
I have embraced this strength while also working on sharing and showing weakness. Yet, I have some guidelines I use to know if I’m oversharing or not. I ask myself the question: what is the goal I want to achieve by disclosing the information I am about to share?
For example, Matt mentioned making negative remarks about a co-worker is oversharing. Yet, if you share the overall situation without details about the specific person, then value can be created. If the goal is to share the situation to analyze it from different perspectives to learn and improve, then it is a valuable conversation.
If value can be created then I share. If it sounds like you are complaining then you are probably oversharing.
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Whenever you can, transform those negative remarks into events or ideas. That will allow you to create value.
Instead of saying “the project failed because so-and-so didn’t do their part,” you can share the situation owning the results and asking for feedback. “Our team failed to deliver a project in time, what are some of the ways you’ve been able to avoid something like this happening to you?" Or, "what would you suggest we do so that we can avoid failing to deliver on time again?”.
In a way, you will be able to get it off your chest and create value by sharing information in a way that is not complaining.
Professional Development Never Stops
Both of us are at points in our lives where we each have over a decade of professional experience with an advanced degree. We have moved beyond novice, yet are still constantly developing as professionals. Being vulnerable while not oversharing is a skill that is necessary for us to grow.
You are likely in a similar position. We encourage you to continue to grow and become a master of proper vulnerability. Opening up and connecting to people is the essence of what it means to be human. We are capable of building incredible relationships and becoming accomplished professionals when we are honest and vulnerable.
The key is to show good judgment. Don’t cross unacceptable lines in professional settings. Begin with small glimpses of your vulnerability and slowly share more until you have strong relationships with your co-workers. That strength will simultaneously make you a better professional and create an unstoppable team which trusts each other.
Start taking action today to embrace vulnerability!
You can do so by joining our community of people who are challenging the status quo.
Alejandro I. Sanoja & Matt Avery