Can Vulnerability Be Power?

Amy Benson

CompassPoint staff member Amy Benson is leading monthly practice groups in January, February, and March 2013 where participants can learn more about and raise the quality of their interpersonal communication. If you’ve had the chance to work with Amy, you know she’s the perfect facilitator for these sessions.

Vulnerability – eek!  I know I try to hide mine.

If I’m hurt that a friend cancels on me at the last minute, I might smile and say, “Oh, it’s no big deal, I have a lot of other things I need to do tonight too.”  If I’m worried that a colleague may not deliver the materials I need on time, I may send an email saying, “You MUST submit your materials by noon on Friday.” Whether I’m hiding my hurt feelings or my inability to control other people’s actions, I’m doing it to protect myself. I’m hiding the parts of my life where I feel weak, with the hopes that others won’t find those weak spots and exploit them. Sometimes I even hide them from myself, so that I won’t have to feel the incredible vulnerability of being alive and human.

We practiced showing our vulnerability today as part of a new Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) practice group we’ve started at CompassPoint. Upon observation, it seems our vulnerabilities show up less in our words and more in our body language and tone of voice. One participant who wanted to make a suggestion to her co-worker started her question of “Why don’t you try…?” with a demanding tone. We suggested that she ask that same question, but with an attitude of curiosity.  


Really, why doesn’t she try this approach? Maybe she tried it before and it didn’t work. Maybe she doesn’t understand and doesn’t know how to ask. Maybe the idea never occurred to her. Our group member needs to ask the question in a tone that shows she doesn’t already know the answer, and she wants to know. Doing so reveals her vulnerability in that moment. It’s saying “I need information from you to help me figure out what to do next.”

The fact is that the people around us know that we’re humans, not impenetrable robots. When we use language that embraces our vulnerabilities, rather than hides them, we ultimately look stronger to our audience and feel stronger within ourselves. We give others the permission to have weak spots, too, and create a more honest atmosphere around ourselves. A simple change of tone can have a ripple effect into the world around us.

Maybe next time I will try saying “Of course you can cancel our plans for tonight, and I will miss your company” or “If you submit your materials by noon on Friday, I will be able to include them in the final report. If you submit them late, I will have to use an attachment to the report, which may look sloppy and reflect poorly on our team.” I will be brave about showing my weak spots (eek!), knowing that it ultimately helps me relate better to the people around me and makes me a stronger person. I’m looking forward to practicing these skills further in our upcoming Communication Superstars practice groups.

Have you changed your tone of voice, your choice of words, or your way of thinking about a situation, and had it make an impact in your job or at your organization? I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section below.


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