Why and how to be more vulnerable

by | Jan 9, 2017 | Blog | 0 comments

Can you try to be more vulnerable?

Being vulnerable may be the positive self-disrupting move you need to become a better version of yourself.

After all, in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, what got you here won’t get you there.

Why do you want to view vulnerability more as a strength rather than a weakness?  

First, consider the definition of vulnerability that behavior scientists use.

Vulnerability is the capacity to experience both physical and psychological harm. When you’re vulnerable, you expose yourself to possible suffering from mental, moral, or spiritual threats.

From others’ perspectives, when you’re vulnerable, you show the courage to admit that you’re not in control. And let’s face it; it’s hard to be in control in our VUCA world.

Instead, you’re open to what’s happening and you’ll roll with the punches, even though you may be feeling uncertain, anxious, or emotionally exposed – or all of the above and more.

If these sensations sound unappealing, you’re not alone. We are hard-wired to fear feeling threatened, which is what vulnerability is all about.

Furthermore, being threatened socially feels just as painful as getting hurt physical. The same neural circuits are involved. Worse, social pain can stick with you longer than a physical ache.  (See Why performance improves when you avoid inflicting social pain.)

Second, even with all of this discomfort, you can reap major benefits when you are vulnerable.

When you show vulnerability, such as admitting that you’re nervous, that you’re not sure what you’re doing, or you’ve made a mistake, they see that you’re human like them. You’re not a robot or some other machine.

You come across as more human. You also can be considered more trustworthy. You’re like them!

Vulnerability also makes you more open to learning and optimal problem solving, according to Hal Shorey, a psychologist and associate professor for the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University. (For an interview with Dr. Shorey and other experts, check out this recent Wall Street Journal article, You Took an Emotional Risk, Now What?)

Third, if you’re now willing to experiment being more vulnerable at work, how do you do it?

The Wall Street Journal article You Took an Emotional Risk, Now What? includes some helpful, actionable tips, especially for practicing vulnerability with intent.

In my experience, I’ve also discovered these three ways can work well to show your vulnerability.

  • Share your foibles. We all make mistakes. Reveal yours too. For example, over the holidays, one of my clients forgot about a call she had scheduled on her conference line with me. After about 15 minutes past the start time, she hadn’t called in and I was worried as she’s always so dependable. I called her on her cell phone, and she apologized as soon as she answered. I responded “No worries. You’re not the only one. I realized this morning that today is my nephew’s birthday and I totally forgot to mail him his birthday card. I feel horrible.” She immediately thanked me for confessing and said she felt better.
  • Admit you don’t understand something, especially in a group setting. If you have the courage to acknowledge that you are either clueless or unclear about something that you and everybody is expected to know, you’ll probably discover that others are in the same boat. They too will appreciate the pause to regroup and relearn. Often times, you, the individual who’s explaining and everyone else will get some new insights too, which makes the digression even more useful.
  • Say “I don’t know.” When you concede that you don’t know in a direct and straightforward manner, you build a stronger bond with people. You show that you’re all in this together, and collectively you can find the answers. These three little words also help you listen better and engage more deeply.

If you’re willing to practice being vulnerable at work, you can build stronger connections with others and enjoy richer conversations. Those actions can contribute to greater success for you, your colleagues, and your organization.

Are you ready to feel some social pain that will make you a stronger, better person?


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