Is There Strength In Showing Vulnerability?

Hi everyone,

Sometimes as women in business we can feel that we have to act like men to be taken seriously and get ahead. (Gents, please bear with me, I do have a point!). I did it myself in the banking world, I banged my fist on the table, swore like a trooper and went to the pub with the lads. “Mines a pint, thanks!”. It wasn’t terrible (I like a pint!) but I burned out at the age of 32. No one had questioned whether I should still be in the office at 8pm every night and I realised that my true self is a calmer, more thoughtful version of that person. I was being who I thought I needed to be and it served me well. I progressed well and was respected and taken seriously, often as the only woman in a room full of men. Did I show my vulnerability? Err, no thank you very much! That was not how things were going at that time. Did I have a good work/life balance? No. Had I given my life over to my work pretty much completely? Yep. Was my mental and physical health suffering? Defo ?

I was brought up, in life and in business to not show weakness and while it did serve me well in turns of getting promoted it ultimately led to my burn out which was a surprise to many as I hadn’t felt that I could tell anyone that I was struggling.  When I did talk to my Line Manager he had put me in such a coping ‘box’ in his head that he really wouldn’t believe what I was telling him anyway!  He thought there were people that were struggling far more than me because they wore their hearts on their sleeves more than I did. He was wrong unfortunately.

Much has changed since 2002 (or has it???) but I still think that there is a culture in many workplaces where’s it’s considered weak to say those terrible words ‘I’m struggling’.  OMG!  The world will collapse if someone knows that I’m a human being and have things that I struggle with!  Or will it?  For me, I’m thinking more and more about the power of shared experience and if that means you share something, not necessarily a difficulty but something that you’re dealing with, then that might help you to connect with another person and build a robust and effective relationship with them.  In the Science of Persuasion Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin talk about how sharing personal details with people and finding similarities between you when you first meet can positively impact on the outcomes of you working together and that must be true for your work colleagues mustn’t it?  Good connections build effective teams and robust organisations; everyone wins.

But instead of being able to take the time to manage relationships I only hear talk nowadays of ‘light touch’ management which means that we only get to react to problems when they arise; it doesn’t give us the space to manage services proactively, build good relationships and anticipate or manage situations as they develop.  Years ago I used to spend time with my suppliers just because; not because anything was wrong, just because I’d not checked in with them for a while and it would be good to see how things were going, for them and for me.  Imagine that!!  I can’t imagine that happens very much these days.  Alas, those days are gone but there is still a value in making good connections and showing people that you have a human side.

Not giving ourselves time to build relationships, with our colleagues, suppliers and customers means that we’re less connected with each other and if you give someone the impression you’re too busy to talk to them they’ll go elsewhere.  And that might mean to a different employer!  The Science of Persuasion also talks about reciprocity – if you do me a favour, then I’m much more likely to do something for you when you need it.  The loss of time for relationship building means that we have less time to do things for other people and so the reciprocity that was oiling the wheels of industry is diminishing, in my view.  People do things because they are told to and so there’s a general loss of good will around us.  Which then impacts on us and so we won’t do much for anyone else….and so it goes on.  Not great :-/

In revealing your vulnerabilities, I’m not talking about having group therapy or crying and hug each other sessions.  Although if you think they might be useful… ?  See if you identify with any of the details in the list below that you might be prepared to share to help you connect with someone else.

  • struggling to sleep in the warmer weather
  • keeping the garden looking good with a hose pipe ban
  • concern about keeping the children occupied during the school holidays
  • suffering with a hangover on Saturday after a night out with the girls/lads
  • the cost of a night out
  • the cost of petrol
  • airports/the stress of travelling
  • housework and chores
  • partners!
  • football
  • nothing to watch on TV while the football’s on
  • sticking to a healthy eating plan
  • sticking to an exercise plan
  • Christmas!

You can see from the list that some of these things are very trivial but if that conversation can connect you with someone then it has a value.  We’re all struggling with something, trivial or otherwise and we can use that to connect with people, share experiences and build effective relationships.  The benefit might not be immediate but building a group of people who would help you when you need it has a huge value, which seems to be underestimated in the business world today.  Where you can, try to take the time to build your business and personal relationships.  In the business world that might be challenging your customers and suppliers to a crazy golf tournament.  It doesn’t have to be serious!  In fact you’ll probably develop better connections if it isn’t.  People share more when they’re having fun than when they’re competing.

There’s strength in showing your true self and letting people see that you struggle sometimes.  For the other days you can take your superhero cape out of the cupboard.  Go on!  I know you want to! ?

Take good care please and have a great day,

Best wishes, Karen