THE BLOG
01/20/2015 02:54 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

The Power of Vulnerability

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For years whenever I had a problem with someone in my life, I would respond with strength.
  • If my partner did something that bothered me, I'd tell them why they should change.
  • If my boss did something I thought was stupid, I'd point out why it was a bad idea.
  • If I met some at a party and I thought their opinion was ill founded, I'd explain why it should be different.
I acted this way because I saw strength as the simplest way to meet my needs. And even though this strategy didn't work, I kept using it because I didn't know what else to do.

When I moved into the monastery something shifted and I started to see there was another way.

Instead always pretending to be strong, I started admitting when I was frustrated, confused, and scared. And when I did, others responded with compassion and patience or by revealing their own struggles and doubts. All these experiences taught me that vulnerability has a power all it's own.

I found that:
  • When you lead with vulnerability, you encourage people to open rather than defend.
  • When you lead with vulnerability, you let others know you can be trusted.
  • When you lead with vulnerability, you reveal your humanity and encourage other people to like you.

How to Lead With Vulnerability

1. Let Go of Righteousness
Righteousness can feel deeply satisfying but when you use it to protect yourself, it prevents you from seeing things from another point of view.

To overcome this, admit you want to be right and then let it go. Not because you're wrong, but because being right won't create connection or help you arrive at a solution.

2. Own Your Feelings
Your feelings may be reasonable, understandable, or even justified, but inevitably they're YOUR feelings.

If your blame your feelings on someone else you'll always get stuck because no one can change the way you feel. Their actions can affect your feelings, but only you can own and resolve your emotions.

To own you feelings first you have to acknowledge them. You have to say, "I'm feeling angry," or "I'm feeling sad," and then feel those feelings without adding a story. Of course, this can be difficult, but even attempting this will make a big difference.

Once you've acknowledged them internally, you have to express them externally. You have to admit that you were angry or sad, not because of what they did, but in response to it.

This is can be especially hard, because admitting that you're angry, scared, or hurt can feel uncomfortable. But you have to do this because pretending you aren't mad when you really are on creates mistrust.

3. Admit What You Did Wrong
Even if what you did was minor in comparison, you must admit your mistakes.

If your roommate leaves their dishes in the sink for a week and you yell at them. Apologize for getting mad and yelling.

Sure leaving dishes in the sink is bad, but you can't control that. You also can't totally control the anger you feel, but you can control how you express it.

So if you did anything wrong own your actions. It may or may not inspire the other person to own their actions, but even if they don't you'll feel better.

4. Be Honest
If you have hidden expectations or are holding onto to something, be honest about it. It may make you seem petty or force you see how unreasonable you're being, but you have to be honest if you want to resolve the conflict or connect.

When I say you should be honest, I don't mean the kind of honesty that gets expressed when people say "I'm just being honest!" Because that usually means they're just being a jerk. Instead, I mean that you should be honest in your vulnerability.

Tell the truth that's hard to tell. Tell the truth that makes you feel a little exposed. Which is almost always a truth about yourself, instead of a truth about someone else.

5. Try Something Different
Often we think the solution to conflict is for the other person to change. But it's our own unwillingness to change that keeps us trapped in the same reactive patterns.

If you want to create connection and resolve conflict, you have to be willing to try a different style of communication or working together.

Often the best way is to come up with a new approach that you and this other person forge together, rather than trying to convince the other person to do it your way.

6. Be Willing To Walk Away
Being vulnerable is scary and it can be very hard if you feel stuck or trapped. Which is why you must be willing to walk away. If you lead with vulnerability and the other person responds with anger or manipulation then you need to make sure you have an exit strategy.

When it becomes clear that the conversation isn't serving either one of you, you need find a way out. Not forever and not in anger, but with the clarity that in order to really connect both parties have to be open.

Final Thoughts:
Most of us go through life pretending to be strong, even when we don't feel that way. We do this because we're afraid if we let other people know that we're angry, sad, or unsure that they won't want to be around us. But the truth is we all feel this way from time to time and that's what makes leading with vulnerability so powerful.