What does being vulnerable mean to you? Most people don’t like feeling vulnerable, myself included. Without our protective stance, we feel exposed to the world that is ready to prey on our weaknesses. Yet, more and more research indicates that the expression of vulnerability contributes to our sense of well-being. In one of my all-favorite TED talks, Brené Brown, the leading researcher on vulnerability, explains why this may be the case.
Conflicts appear to be the worst situations for people to show vulnerability. After all, if you are in conflict, you already feel attacked. The typical fight or flight response is a survival mechanism wired into our brains. When our physical safety is at stake, the brain revs up our defenses, and it makes sense. While conflicts make people feel vulnerable, the typical reaction would be to cover up vulnerability with anger, attacks, defensiveness, and accusations. Are there any benefits to expressing vulnerability in situations that don’t involve risks of physical or emotional violence? Or will vulnerability simply lead to more victimization?
Vulnerability may show up as many things in conflict, such as:
- Sharing your feelings openly;
- Accepting the responsibility for your role in the conflict;
- Acknowledging mistakes, confusion, miscommunication, mistreatment;
- Giving the other side a second chance;
- Stepping into the unknown territory;
- Being willing to make a fool of yourself;
- Risking your reputation;
- Going against the majority opinion;
- Speaking your own truth;
- Risking being isolated from your own group;
- Delivering bad news;
- Letting go of the attachment to your conflict story.
What could conflicting parties gain by showing their vulnerability? Here are a few scenarios where the expression of vulnerability may lead to breakthroughs:
- When one side drops the attacking or defensive posturing and shows vulnerability, the other party may follow the suit. Then, the energy of the conflict shifts. When the parties drop their guard, it increases the connection and allows reciprocal expression of their humanity. They no longer need to pretend.
- Vulnerability is a sign of hope that the conflict can take a different path. Vulnerability breaks the patterns of the typical triggers and responses the parties go through.
- Showing vulnerability signals to the other side that you are comfortable with your own graces and follies. It conveys confidence in your ability to handle any feedback or reaction that may follow. When you show vulnerability, you reject shame.
- When you express vulnerability, you respect the other side enough to be honest and authentic, to let them know the real you.
- Vulnerability makes you less fearful and more creative. Instead of spending your mental and emotional energy to protect your image and beliefs, you feel the freedom to express yourself fully.
- When you show vulnerability, you take risks. Showing vulnerability can be both liberating and terrifying. And you can’t move forward without taking risks.
How else can vulnerability help in conflict management?