How to embrace vulnerability

and why it connects us in an authentic way

Modules

  • Quarantine dilemma
  • Darkness or light
  • Sane insanity
  • Vulnerability as authenticity
  • Awareness and trust

Introduction

We want to introduce our live experience subject with an interesting but controversial social dilemma that we’ve all experienced during the pandemic. How has the quarantine situation highlighted some of the issues we face as a society?

That’s for you to decide.

Our work, personal and social structures have all been affected. We’ve suffered a 180 degree change that is making us feel unsafe, uncertain and emotionally volatile. We have no idea what the near future has in store for us, this creates insecurity and there’s no guide explaining how to handle situations like this.

The situation has brought up anxiety, depression and anger. For many of us it was as if were on an unstoppable emotional rollercoaster and we accepted it, at least for a little while.

Quarantine Dilemma

For a couple of weeks global anxiety was normalized as part of our new condition and then we started seeing posts like this in our newsfeeds.

Suddenly not only did we need to be as productive as usual, but now (since we had all the time we could ever wish for), we needed to be EVEN MORE productive. The whole world was signing up for different activities; exercise routines and MBA´s. They started developing new skills and reading 4 books per day.

So, rather than acknowledging the difficult period we were living through and trying our best to get through it, we started to feel as if we were in a competition for who could be the most productive individual during this very unfortunate moment for humankind. This affected everyone’s mental health and caused us to freak out about our social expectations, our confined reality began looking something like this.

At The Failure Institute we believe this current dissonance between productivity and anxiety is caused by a few things that society has wrongly accepted.

Narratives are a peculiar form of how societies generalize behaviours and paradigms, here we will focus on 2 narratives and scrutinize them with you.

Darkness or light

The world we live in is presented to us in terms of scales: success vs failure, winning vs losing, light vs darkness, and black vs white even though we accept the story of life vs death. 

This makes life a struggle, a battle for survival in which you always need to be on the “positive” side of the scale, otherwise you’re a loser, life is kicking your ass and making you less worthy. 

Whenever you are feeling down, anxious, angry or even not fully focused, this makes you feel even more miserable, because the positive feeling would be normal and productive, so you put pressure on yourself and try to fight the ¨negative feeling¨ making it impossible to just sit with the feeling until it changes naturally, the more upset we get the harder it is to get over it.

Having some perspective often helps, darkness/light are two sides of a whole, they are not against each other but necessary to co-exist. Understanding that if we don’t have darkness, light could not exist helps us to accept all the aspects of life such as failure, loss or death. And then it’s no longer a struggle, it’s just part of the balance and we can stop fighting it.

Sane insanity

Aligned with the Darkness & Light paradigm another thing that affects us when we’re trying to cope with anxiety, is that we keep trying to be fine.

It’s ok, except that the current situation (and the human experience itself) tends to be a little more complicated than just “fine”.

We are in uncertain times, we have a complex history, a system that constantly reforms itself, things change too quickly, we experience devastating losses, the gap between our hopes and our realities is constantly changing.

Let’s be logical, aiming for sanity, makes no sense!

Why do we try to keep things linear when our lives are like a rollercoaster?

Alain de Botton philosopher and founder of School of life, explores the concept of Sane Insanity in his book An Emotional Education.

It has nothing to do with being crazy, it is about achieving an awareness of and a mature relationship with our insanities. It’s about understanding that things are not always perfect or fine, and not creating this pressure and troubling desire of normalcy. Calmly accepting (without losing self esteem) that we are deeply peculiar and complex individuals and most importantly that we don’t have to be fine all the time.

This doesn’t magically reduce the pain or the anxiety, but it helps us make peace with it and that’s kind of relieving isn’t it? 

Let’s go back to the beginning and explore the conception of Vulnerability a little further.

What is vulnerability?

So let’s rewind a little and start with what vulnerability is and how we perceive it.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says “vulnerable”, perhaps it’s something associated with weakness or insecurity. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault, this common misconception is what we’ve been taught and it’s how prejudices and bias work, social concepts establish themselves in a deep layer of our brain and condition our behaviours.

It's not our fault but it is our responsibility to deconstruct any belief in a way that aligns to your personal values, and even to deconstruct some of those values in the process.

Defining the right mental paradigms is fundamentally important because that’s what drives our actions and habits. Our northstar at The Failure Institute is to help people break free from the paradigms that limit their lives.

That’s the intention of this platform, to create a safe space where you can question, challenge, and redefine concepts that you have created in the past. This is the place to reevaluate if continuing to live by these concepts makes sense for you, without the external pressure of having to be someone you’re not or do something you don’t want to. No expectations, just freedom to choose.

Vulnerability as authenticity

So what is vulnerability?

Imagine that the purpose wasn’t about winning or losing, being right or being wrong, being accepted or being rejected. How would you be?

The picture in your mind right now is what vulnerability is. Having the opportunity to be whoever you want to be and to show yourself as you truly are, letting go of the need to adjust your personality due to external circumstances. Pure authenticity.

So, vulnerability could be a weaker version of yourself, but it also could be a stronger personality, being more upfront and straightforward; it doesn’t have to be associated with being less or with negative emotions.

The power that vulnerability gives us, is the possibility to engage with people in an honest way, not pretending to be someone else. That creates deeper connections, as Brene Brown explains in her Ted Talk. It makes you engage in a fair way, not from a position of winning or losing, but on a more human level.

What would your true self look like if the purpose wasn't about winning and losing?

Awareness & Trust

One of the questions we’re often asked is, how can we start building vulnerability?

And as we like to say: we don’t have the answer 🙂 But that hasn’t stopped us from asking ourselves those difficult questions. So, if you want to strengthen vulnerability for teams or personal relationships, hold that thought. 

We tend to believe that before we can show ourselves as vulnerable, we first need to either build trust or to ask the other person to be more honest, authentic or vulnerable.  But that’s the interesting part:

Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust, it has to precede it.

The initial barrier we create is trying to show ourselves as “strong” when meeting a stranger for the first time, to project intelligence and wiseness, because that would make people think of us as a reliable person.  But, let’s think about how the best connections and relationships in our life started.

Perhaps you are imagining how your friend fell down the stairs when drunk at a party, or another random occasion that turned someone from an acquaintance to a true friend. Friendship is the result of gratitude and reciprocity, when one human being offers another something very valuable to him or her, this is called intimacy. That bitter moment she shared, that sad day you spent with him, that falling down the stairs transformed strangers into friends.

We have this constant struggle and anxiety, about whether people are going to like us or not because of who we are. The key point is to take the first step, and understand that we connect with people because of what we do, more than who we are.

What if we were told that the true enabler for empathy is intimacy, and that we connect more with people from our weird, funny and authentic sides?
Would that make us change how we approach other people?

Vulnerability at work

How can we be as free and authentic as pandas in the grass?

Let’s start with the things that you are probably missing when trying to build or foster vulnerability at work.

In his book Dysfunctions of a team Patrick Lencioni points out some characteristics that might affect -or as we like to say- fuckup your work dynamics.

1. This vicious circle starts with the absence of trust.

Not having spaces where people can engage and open up can start this unhealthy loop. When team members aren’t sure if they can openly accept mistakes and weaknesses, it is really hard to achieve trust.

At The Failure Institute, each time we welcome a new member to the team, we prepare a session to let them introduce themselves. We try to create the most comfortable atmosphere for them to present all the aspects of themselves, not only their skills and capabilities, but also their funniest moments, their fuckups and their current challenges. 

We even have one team member that made an Anti-Introduction, only sharing funny and random facts about herself. Everyone engaged with her immediately. Think about the journey and the daily agendas of your team. Do you have the chance to really get to know each other in an authentic way?

2. This failure in building trust takes us to the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. 

With no trust, people rarely enter into discussions and propose new ideas with passion. They’re also unlikely to take a stand when they see a red light. They mainly stick to formal and cautious comments.

We encourage what we call the difficult conversations, this means the acceptance that diverse thoughts always bring better solutions. You can foster this aspect in 2 ways:

If you are a leader, instead of leading your meetings with your own thoughts, you can start embracing a more servant leadership style. This means guiding the conversations, bringing the best of your team members to the table, instead of monopolizing the conversation around your ideas, concepts and biases.

If you are a team member, you can start and foster this by asking and being curious about what your colleagues think on any key subject. Be a sort of facilitator of important things that might not be being considered.

3. This fear of conflict translates into lack of commitment & avoidance of accountability 

It’s logical to think that when individual opinions aren’t considered for a project within the organization, employees don’t truly accept certain decisions (they might say they agree in meetings) but they don’t really feel committed to the cause. This directly affects ownership. Individuals in these circumstances avoid responsibility and prefer not to speak up. With this, it’s harder to keep projects on the right path, with the right action plan, and with natural leadership.

4. When we’re not able to be mutually responsible, the fourth dysfunction appears, inattention to results

 This happens when team members put their own needs (ego, personal career, recognition) above the collective goals. So employees start losing the focus on important things that can help companies achieve their goals, and start focusing on personal things that cannot be the best for the organization or the team.

This unhealthy pyramid helps us to realize how easy it is to lose employees attention, commitment and passion about what they are doing. But also how easy it is to create the right atmosphere where trust can thrive.

Vulnerable Leadership

There are some things we can do on the other side to improve our leadership style in order to facilitate spaces where people feel free to be vulnerable:

  • Stories and intimacy is where real connection starts.
  • Vulnerability helps us to take moral decisions.
  • Be curious about your team.
  • Encourage kindness.
  • Seek excellence instead of perfectionism.

First of all, we need to remember the importance of taking the first steps when we are trying to build intimacy.

Another hidden perk of being vulnerable is that it helps us to make the right moral decisions. When you start making any choice with empathy, you will by default consider the counterpart and that will lead to finding a solution that involves everyone winning.  Here the phrase “the end justifies the means” is impossible to conceive because when you actually think and measure the consequences of your actions by how they might affect others you think twice about each action.

We like to say that privilege can be used fairly, but also we believe in the radical minds that push changes without the need of hierarchical positions. So whether you are a leader or not, we need more crazy people changing narratives and personal behaviours.

Showing interest in people’s opinions, passions and most importantly, listening to them with your full attention can guarantee your ability to engage with anyone.

We need to start encouraging kindness. The corporate system tends to associate kindness with naivety, foolishness or not being brave enough. When being kind is the most powerful thing we can give to other people. We need to change the connotations of what being kind really is, in order to give it the importance it deserves.

Last but not least, when we are managing a team it’s paramount to choose the right words and the right messages that we want to stand out. In this means, we need to be careful when we aim for perfection. Everything in this world aims to be perfect. But as we previously said there’s no such thing as perfect projects, people or companies.

At the Failure Institute we choose to seek excellence with a growth mindset, trying to be 1% better each day, not comparing ourselves with anyone else but ourselves. We like to improve in our own time, with our own resources, but always trying to grow.

Be careful with what you ask of your team. Being better instead of being perfect.

Building empathetic relationships

In the end, vulnerability helps with reaching a more empathetic understanding of things. And this helps us to be more conscious human beings. We want to leave you with this final thought, before you make your own conclusions about this topic.

1. Similar Situations. different realities.

We should not forget in these times of crisis ( and in any other moment, actually) that although we face similar situations, work in the same company, watch the same Netflix series: realities, backgrounds and context between colleagues will never be the same.

And if we want to build empathy and construct better relationships, we need to get rid of our assumptions. Stop guessing, ask and then caringly try to understand each situation. When you let prejudices or preconceptions control the conversation, negotiation or message, you can lose the connection with the person you are trying to communicate with. 

2. Be the person you want to be.

The first step to build vulnerable and empathetic relationships is to dare and have the will to deeply know yourself. Asking yourself the tough questions is the beginning of an honest personal relationship. Once you’ve finally accepted your inner truths and faults, you can start engaging with people in a more profound way.

3. Act from a place of love

Imagine that people are doing the best they can and act like that were the rule. This mindset will help you be kind to others. Support colleagues, friends and strangers, that’s the first step and the only secret. 

Taking that first step is the path to creating vulnerable connections.

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