Despite so much focus on mindfulness these days, there are many ways in which we struggle to apply it, most of all with how we communicate. When I coach executives about self awareness I am struck by how difficult it is to really own ourselves and our intent despite all the colourful greatness that comes with engaging others authentically. The leaders I most admire have mastered allowing their confidence and vulnerability to coexist, especially when discussing sensitive topics. Being vulnerable is not simply being open minded, it requires you to be upfront and authentic about your intent and feelings.
Over the years I have developed a strong sense of confidence in my ability to navigate change and all of the challenges and joys that come with it. And at the same time I have developed comfort with being vulnerable enough to stumble, fail or be hurt and embrace the growth that accompanies exposing myself authentically. What fascinates me is that we make confidence very easy to own, we are innately drawn to confidence in one another. But historically we do not always openly embrace vulnerability with the same clarity. The good news is we are seeing growing appreciation for leaders that win our deep respect and our hearts by revealing their vulnerable confidence. But I wonder if they did not have to face numerous instances of judgement for their vulnerability before it manifested appreciation. I know I have. It seems that the powerful outcome of vulnerability reveals itself over time, eventually rising above all the biases we have towards it. When we are in the throws of vulnerability often our irrational mindset kicks in which can surface behaviours we do not tolerate very well. At times vulnerability can sound like complaining or whining and come across as insecure which can really muddle the emotions for everyone engaged in the conversation. Even when this does not occur, vulnerability is complicated. We need to be mindful of how we express it and how we response to it. First and foremost we need to recognize if we are passing any judgement when we first come across it and if so, that is coming from our own stuff and our own biases. Second we need to listen more deeply, trying to understand the underlying intent and source of the vulnerability we are feeling ourselves or observing from others.
Our response to vulnerability is often at the core of the dysfunctional communications I encounter when I am coaching my clients. And it is also at the core of most of my own challenges with communications. With this in mind I have some suggestions on how we can mindfully navigate beyond the literal dynamics of vulnerability and find our way to embrace the beauty of it.
If you are the one feeling vulnerable first recognize that this invites an irrational state of mind and be open to how this may be diminishing your intent. Try to get clear with yourself on your intent and what is in your way. Own your emotions and observe how they are impacting your ability to communicate in a way that inspires others to listen. A big part of vulnerability is accepting a lack of control, and a lack of control can surface manipulative behaviour even if that is not your intent. Vulnerability is only a strength when you are not attached to the outcome.
If you are engaging with someone who is expressing vulnerability first recognize your own response to it. Do you feel a sense of judgement? Are you listening deeply or simply hearing their words literally. If you do innately recognize vulnerability as a strength then remind yourself of that in the moment and try to understand their intent before responding. Acknowledge that they are likely less aware of their own behaviour in this state of mind, which may surface in their tone or ability to process your response rationally.
As I have already mentioned, navigating vulnerability in conversations is complicated. It requires a delicate balance of self awareness from both perspectives. Simply differentiating between vulnerability and manipulation can be challenging, ultimately we want to encourage the kind of vulnerability that pushes ourselves outside of our comfort zone so we can grow. That is very different than manipulation, even though it may get communicated with similar undertones. There is no prescriptive way to handle vulnerability, but we can be mindful about it. Listen and respond to people in context of who they are as a whole and avoid responding literally to any one situation and own what thoughts and emotions you bring with you.
Good communication is key to all our relationships, personally and professionally. Arguably the degree to which you can communicate mindfully determines your potentiality to grow individually and as a team.