I did a staff workshop in a high school once.
It could have gone better…
I naively presumed the practise of vulnerability would be considered a positive vehicle for human expression, as opposed to being considered on par with say cannibalism.
I suggested to this team of work colleagues they could create a much more positive work environment by embracing the power of vulnerability, and bringing their authentic selves to the workplace.
I would have got a better response had I suggested they all come to work buck naked and posted selfies on facebook!
“If I was vulnerable at work I could lose my job!”
“Vulnerability is not an option!”
“Why are you here?”
“Who sent you?”
One person just got up and walked straight out…
Did I mention this was my first ever staff workshop, and this all happened the first 15 minutes?
So Joan from admin (we’ll call her Joan) starts to randomly tell this story about why she couldn’t afford to be vulnerable in the workplace. I’m at the front of the room hoping there would be a riot in the playground between rival gangs wielding baseball bats, and we’d all have to go home, but not to be.
Joan admits to the group that she has a problem remembering things from time to time, and because her Mother suffers with Alzheimer’s, she carries a crippling fear that this will be her fate too, and ultimately affect her ability to do her admin job.
Not fully sure what caused Joan to share this story in the middle of what felt like a bad day in Syria, but suddenly I was aware the door of salvation had just opened for me!
I ask the entire room; “Now that you all know this about Joan, next time Joan forgets to complete an admin task for you, how will you treat her? Will you offer her a piece of your mind, or will you offer her your grace and understanding because you know her backstory?”
“Case in point!”
“We’ve already begun to create a more positive work environment through the power of vulnerability. Thanks Joan!”
I’d love to say the rest of the day was a roaring success, but it was bloody hard work!
At least Joan’s example lessened the bloodshed, and contained the riot to one room.
So what comes up for you when I say the word vulnerability?
Vulnerability seems to strike fear in people’s hearts at its very mention.
On the other hand, Brene Brown’s TED Talk titled The Power of Vulnerability is one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time!
34,691,239 views as of today to be precise.
Along with the rest of the planet, Brene’s talk blew me away!
I won’t ‘mansplain’ the whole thing, but here’s the guts of it…
Brene’s research produced the following data:
One large group of people were interviewed, and then split into two groups:
One group had great relationships, and the other group had poor relationships.
The common denominator between people who had relational trainwrecks in their wake was a deep sense of unworthiness, and behind their sense of unworthiness was a strong connection with shame.
The common denominator between people who had great relationships, was a deep sense of worthiness, and behind their sense of worthiness was a strong connection with vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the prime relational connector between people. If you’re vulnerable, you’ll connect deeply with others, and if you’re not, you won’t. Simple as that!
The data doesn’t lie! And if the data scares you, join the club.
I can only comment from a male perspective, but as a man, vulnerability smells like weakness to me.
I will naturally and instinctively avoid anything in life that even remotely smells like weakness. I don’t think there’s a dirtier word in the male language than weakness, and there’s some stiff competition as you would know.
(Research suggests vulnerability often equates to feelings of weakness for men, and powerlessness for women.)
Not sure about you, but I wasn’t taught much about emotions growing up. I don’t think my parents or their generation had much language around emotion, nor did the topic even seem to be on the radar at all. What I did know though, is you made fun of people who talked about, or showed emotion.
It turns out then, my emotional ignorance, and lack of EQ (emotional intelligence) throughout life has cost me.
I’ve buried so many of my natural emotional strengths because I believed they were weaknesses.
Strengths like kindness, gentleness, patience, mercy, grace, self control and of course, vulnerability, all got shoved in the cupboard.
No wonder I have a trail of relational trainwrecks in my wake…
Here’s the paradox;
Vulnerability works counter-intuitively to our darwinian survival of the fittest tendencies, however, the data indicates vulnerability is essential to building healthy relationships.
The very thing we need for healthy relationships, we run from.
We don’t always run from vulnerability though…
Like after a few wines…
Liquid courage = Vulnerability
I like some people more after they’ve had a few wines (or ten). They’re more authentic because the mask has slipped off.
I also like some people a whole lot less after they’ve had a few wines too.
Same reason – The mask has slipped off.
Some people like to get naked after a few drinks, and some of us like to shed the emotional clothing instead.
Either way, being authentic and vulnerable takes courage, no doubt about it.
Again, Brene nails it home with this;
“Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our greatest measure of courage”
I’ve always loved authenticity, and what I’ve learned from Brene, is vulnerability is one of the key components of authenticity.
I wasn’t born to be uptight, shut down & stoic, so I’m practising vulnerability the best I can.
Putting yourself on the line risking rejection without guarantee of reciprocation is scary.
Risking your reputation being transparent with your flaws instead of hiding them can come back and bite you on the bum.
At the end of the day, from someone feeling naked, with a few teeth marks in their bum, my advice is have a crack (pun intended) at vulnerability, and see what happens…
Win, lose or draw.
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