How to build trust and openness through vulnerability

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

These times call for courage as there is a lot of uncertainty and risks around us. Some of these are the uncertainty of losing one’s job, income, our loved ones, relationships, health, our efficiency and familiar routines, to name but a few. Being vulnerable may feel subversive, uncomfortable and even a little dangerous, and we may rather hide in our shells, opt for disconnection and pretend that we can avoid vulnerability. 

These uncertain times also ask a lot from our leadership: how to cultivate openness and honesty and create more trust so that we can come out of this as a stronger team? In brief, honesty is known to increase trust, trust to increase openness, and openness to increase the appreciation of differences. When was the last time you had a real and open conversation with your people? 

Vulnerability, what is it? 

In her book, Daring Greatly Brené Brown (2012:34) defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”. She says that vulnerability is also “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity”. In other words, vulnerability isn’t only dark emotions, such as fear, shame, grief, sadness and disappointment, but it is also a cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave, such as love, joy and authenticity. 

Vulnerability is the feeling when you walk into a room full of high-profile investors, or your teammates, and you pitch your idea of saving the world or the company. When your business idea fails and you let your clients and investors know that you will be closing your doors for good. When you ask help from your neighbor to look after your kids while you run your errands and sleep. When you show your art. Or when you voice your opinion whether it is popular or not. You allow yourself to be seen despite the risk. 

Have you ever admired people who are vulnerable, but then concluded that it’s not who you are? That has happened to me and just recently in a Zoom meeting where I couldn't get a word out of my mouth. As Brené Brown puts it: “ foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living”. When I realized this, I wished I had been more than a bystander.

It may be helpful to define what vulnerability is not: It’s not the act of throwing yourself under the buss thinking somebody’s got to save you. Brené Brown points out that vulnerability isn’t oversharing, purging or indiscriminate disclosure. A helpful tip for me has also been that vulnerability isn’t desperation, woundedness or attention-seeking. Vulnerability is about mutual respect, increased connection, trust and engagement. That’s why often when someone shares authentically from their heart we feel an increased amount of compassion.

How can we all benefit from vulnerability? 

If there’s one skill you want to cultivate during these times it might as well be vulnerability. The benefits of vulnerability include, among other things: