Let’s talk about vulnerability

Posted on September 12, 2020
By Catherine Heilemann

Each year we acknowledge R U OK day. It helps to remind us to check in with our friends, family and colleagues. It helps us to remember to be mindful of others and ‘tells’ that may indicate things aren’t OK for them. This got me thinking about vulnerability. Is it OK to show your vulnerability and how ‘should’ we respond if someone asks R U OK? Is vulnerability a chink in your armour, a weakness or can we be vulnerable and it be a good thing? Perhaps you’ve heard the term stiff upper lip? To be resolute and unemotional. To not show vulnerability. For me, vulnerability shows courage.

Vulnerability can be shown without being or becoming a victim. Vulnerability is acknowledging that something isn’t right. To be able to show and communicate this in a way that releases tension and allows space and time for resolving. Vulnerability enables you/me to look at a situation or chain of events with greater openness. It enables you/me to then work on a way or ways forward. When you/I show vulnerability it can mean there is a level of trust, faith and hope which opens the situation up for those involved to explore the situation and work towards a resolution. When both parties open up, that’s when vulnerability shows up, and it can lead to greater understanding of one another, the situation and it can really strengthen the relationship.

However, beware of overplaying vulnerability, in my opinion there is a line, between showing and communicating vulnerability and being a victim. I was watching The Blacklist the other night and there was a scene where Reddington visits a man who in his words is the best tracker around. The man hasn’t delivered on his promise and has an excuse. Reddington says ‘there’s always something with you isn’t there: a sickness, a death, an accident, you, a relative, there is always something’. In this case vulnerability was being overplayed into victimhood and excuse making as an alibi for non-delivery.

Some common situations where vulnerability can be shared are:

  • It may be that you’re feeling or thinking that you’re out of your depth
  • That you aren’t skilled enough for a task or job
  • Being overwhelmed with too much work
  • A difficult work situation
  • Being overwhelmed with too much of everything, including what may be going on outside of work

If you notice a ‘tell’ in someone that something may not be right, rather than asking if the person is OK, perhaps try asking if they have something on their mind, or acknowledge what you’ve noticed, i.e. I noticed something flicker across your face when we were discussing x, shall we have a chat?

Being more specific as opposed to a general R U OK, may draw the person out more. You are letting the person know you’re interested, open to listen and discuss and that its OK to have a chat. If the person does want to have a chat then listen, listen and listen some more. Aim not to share a time when the same thing happened for you, unless they invite you to – aim not to offer them solutions, ask the person questions and what they want to do about it.

Yes, this will take some time from your day but it will open you both up, to be vulnerable, to share and hopefully start to find a way forward.

Let’s talk about vulnerability

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