8 Practical Steps for Demonstrating Vulnerability (Especially for Men)
In her TED Talk, The power of vulnerability (the fourth most-watched in the series, with 28 million views and counting), Brene Brown discusses research showing that we build connections, contentment and credibility when we “show up as we really are.”
And “as we really are” is wounded—vulnerable.
Maybe not right at this moment. Perhaps you don’t characterize your struggles as hurts. Maybe, like me, you’ve been conditioned to believe that you should always appear strong.
It’s difficult for me to acknowledge when I hurt. In fact, whether it was my athletic coaches telling me to play through the pain or my friends regularly competing for who was coolest and toughest, boys in the culture where I grew up were socialized to eschew pain.
All this means that Brene Brown, leadership consultants and marriage and family therapists who advocate vulnerability have placed many people, notably men, into a difficult situation.
Do something contrary to everything I was socialized and modeled to do my entire life?
Many men are like the guy I ate lunch with last month. When the topic of vulnerability came up, he said, “My wife says she wants me to be more vulnerable, but I don’t even know how!”
Here are some ideas on how to be vulnerable, even if vulnerability isn’t your natural thing:
- Accept that you have issues…on the inside. Consider your addiction, avoidance, rushing, distraction, preoccupation or sleeplessness. That’s where you might find your vulnerability.
- Develop emotional vocabulary. Vulnerability is most appropriately characterized through emotive words. When we talk about relational vulnerability, we’re talking about wounds of the heart and mind – like anxiety, fear, sadness, or shame.
- Discern safe people and places. Not every situation or person is appropriate for revealing your vulnerability. But there are probably more appropriate situations and people than you might think. Disclosure of vulnerability is often less risky than you might worry it would be. In fact, you’ll likely discover that acknowledging your vulnerability will be viewed as an act of strength and courage.
- Describe what’s happening on the inside. It’s tempting to just talk about the externalities around vulnerability. Rather than saying, “We are behind budget, and my boss is really being a jerk about it,” you might say, “I’m feeling concerned about our budget status. It’s making me feel insecure about our team’s progress. It’s also hard for me to talk with my boss about it.”
- Impress people with how you share, not what you share. Another temptation is to say things that we think might make others think more of us. I’ve never been impressed, for example, when someone tells me in a job interview that a weakness they have is “caring too much” or “working too hard.” I’m much more impressed when someone admits something faulty about themselves, but they do it in a way that is honest, curious and courageous. I think, “That’s someone I can work with.”
- Commit to regular practice. Even when things seem to be firing on all cylinders, if I’m honest, I’m feeling mixed. I may be feeling distracted, proud or worried that the momentum won’t continue. I’m a human being. I always have vulnerabilities. I try to bring vulnerability into work presentations, one-on-one meetings with colleagues and even with clients. The more I practice showing up as I really am, the more fluent I become.
- Self-affirm who you are. Voicing vulnerabilities is not self-condemnation, self-pity or self-effacing. It’s the opposite. It’s a declaration of courage and humanity. And you need to remind yourself of that. Everyone has vulnerability. Everyone. It’s the strong, the self-aware and the honest who can tell people about it.
- Make space for reciprocation. You give a great gift to your family, your organization and your community when you not only show vulnerability but also support vulnerability. This means showing up as you really are…and then shutting up so others can show up, too. It means listening, asking, caring and avoiding the temptations to fix or rescue. Vulnerability is relational.
How vulnerable are you? What difference would it make if you showed up more often as you really are?