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Turning Vulnerability Into Respect

Vulnerability tends to be received like a dirty word. When vulnerability gets mentioned, it’s like all the air gets sucked out of the room.

Vulnerability is also somewhat taboo to bring up in the workplace. This is costing companies and individuals more than we can afford to lose.

It would seem that we are downright terrified of vulnerability! Why? Because we think exposing our vulnerable little underbellies gives someone power over us.


Two Important Truths

If I may, I would like to protest this idea (although my mind still holds tight to it’s fear of exposing my own underbelly with a vice-like grip). I have found 2 important truths about vulnerability:

  1. Becoming vulnerable in the midst of a disagreement consistently results in the other backing off.
  2. People have a high level of respect for vulnerability, even people we may have considered to be adversaries.

When we summon up the courage to be vulnerable in the moment (oftentimes when we least want to become vulnerable), we win. How? By gaining respect and power, the exact thing we thought we might be giving away.

Why does vulnerability create such a powerful impact? Because we all understand that true vulnerability requires great courage.

Humans value and respect courage and we also understand how courage is the superpower to overcome fear and challenge.

Our vulnerability demonstrates our courage.

If we want to empower our workforce with effective communication, negotiation, and leadership, it is vital to integrate vulnerability into the workplace. When vulnerability is missing, we see a costly lack of transparency.


A Personal Example: Vulnerability as Strength

The other day I found myself in a conversation where I was feeling unheard, misunderstood, and disempowered. My level of frustration had been rising as I continually struggled to find common ground in a conversation where we had differing opinions. Then, I finally did what felt like eating worms.

As the person proclaimed another “fact” about their interpretation of my opinion, I took a deep breath and rather than responding with a counter argument, I shared that I wasn’t feeling heard or understood.

In the silence that ensued (unless you count my pounding heart which was pulsing in my stomach and ears) my mind raced as I sat there terrified that I had gone to far. I thought the other people there would think I was crazy, defensive, or overly emotional.

A moment later, to my relief, the other person responded with a clarification of what they thought I was saying and then a pause to see if they were correct (this was a much appreciated break from what felt like them talking over me for 20+ minutes).

It was only then, once I had created a pause through vulnerability, that they were willing to truly listen. Within a few moments we had found our way to a productive conversation rather than an argument.

If you’re curious about building vulnerability to be able to communicate more clearly, check out my next blog on the steps to building true vulnerability.