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The Power And Pitfalls Of Complete Vulnerability

The Power And Pitfalls Of Complete Vulnerability

The first time I remember being vulnerable was in the fourth grade. It was Valentine’s Day and I was in love – or so I thought.

While waiting for my mom to pick me up from after school daycare (I distinctly recall this memory to this day), my best friend and crush at the time, his friend, and I all sat in a circle playing Jenga by the child-sized lockers. In the middle of our game, he looked up at me, and asked, “So who do you have a crush on?”

My heart stopped. He continued staring as though he already knew the answer, as though my eyes must have given it away, but said nothing and waited for me to respond.

With a bit of hesitation, I raised my finger, pointed at him, and said, “You.”

He smiled, and for a moment, I thought that he would say the same. I assumed his smile meant the feeling was mutual and he liked me too. But, of course, I thought wrong.

The next words out his mouth nearly ruined Valentine’s Day forever for me. He said, “That’s cute…well I have a crush on Natasha [who was my other best friend at the time].”

Looking back, it’s almost comical how quickly my emotions changed within the instant. I went from blissful, hopeful, excited, and nervous to confused, angry, mortified, and ashamed.

How could he? I thought. How could she? (Even though she wouldn’t even found out until middle school).

I was hurt, yes, but even more so I was upset at myself for allowing him to make me feel such a way – a way which made me feel as if my whole world was collapsing all around me and I had no control in the matter.

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I didn’t understand it at the time, but this was the first time I’d ever felt truly vulnerable. And it was one of the worst vulnerable moments in my life, but arguably amongst the most important too.

Earlier this year, I experienced a situation similar to my Valentine’s Day catastrophe. Instead of crying into my parents’ arms for five straight hours, I decided to do some self-therapy and seek out advice from others going through the same thing.

So I read The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, wrote some admittedly melodramatic songs, and cried a little, of course, but I also discovered a Ted Talk called The Power of Vulnerability.

By this time, I’d grown up enough to realize what I was going through was a result of my inherently vulnerable nature. I had put myself out there, without my initial hesitation, and fallen flat on my face in the midst of great expectation.

However, when I watched Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” talk, I felt the puzzle pieces start to come together in my head. It was as if she was speaking directly to me, but indirectly, by speaking about vulnerability.

In her research, Brown started off by talking about the idea of connection and how humans have this ingrained desire and need to connect with others saying, “In order to allow for connection, we have to be seen, really seen.”

She went on to say that she’d discovered this factor hindering us from connecting with those around us that stemmed from a sense of fear and insecurity. What she’d found was shame.

And underlying that shame and sense of unworthiness was excruciating vulnerability.

When reading The Year of Magical Thinking, I thought what I was going through was a subset of grief – an unnamed, but universal feeling of loss that we have all experienced at the signs of an end. But when I watched Brown’s video, I realized it was the all-too-familiar emotion of shame.

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It was the fear that maybe I wasn’t good enough, maybe there was something wrong with me that made it impossible to continue this connection I’d established. In hindsight, I didn’t need the validation of my worthiness, but I wanted it. I wanted to know I wasn’t still that little girl who wasn’t enough for her first valentine.

I needed to know I was wanted for me.

“When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak…when you ask people about connection, they’ll tell you about disconnection,” Brown pointed out. I realized I was no different then, and admittedly I’m still not.

In being vulnerable and revealing an unseen layer to someone else, I had lost something of myself. I had lost that part of me that feared the unknown, but in doing so, opened myself up to the possibility of rejection. And rejected was exactly how I felt.

But as the video went on and Brown delved further into shame and vulnerability and connection, I realized it was not my vulnerability that had made me feel weakened in the circumstance. Rather, it was my willingness to be vulnerable that made me stronger, and my feeling of shame and rejection that instead belittled me.

Brown’s research then switched to focusing on this idea of “the wholehearted” who are “people who had a strong sense of love and belonging because they believed they were worthy of love and belonging.” She explained that these people had three factors in common: courage, compassion, and connection.

“They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be what they were,” Brown said.

And even though I had gone through a whirlwind of negative emotions following periods of vulnerability in my life, it occurred to me then and there that I was a wholehearted person. The only difference being that I thought I should be the opposite.

One thing that my best friend has said to me time and time again, which is now lodged in my brain forever, is that she sees me as someone who gives their full 100% when it comes to what I love.

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I love to write so when I do, I put my whole self into my writing. I love music so when I produce songs, I practice them until they’re perfect. And when I love someone, I give everything of myself to that person, even if the future looks unclear or unfruitful.

But when it comes to whom I choose to be with, I expect that same effort. I expect it because I was given that overabundance of love from my parents. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it definitely raised my expectations for relationships beyond the average idealist.

For a long time though, I thought it was a bad thing. I believed myself to be too loving, too caring, and too emotional, which translated into needy, dependent, and irrational for most people.

However, in watching “The Power of Vulnerability,” I started to see that it wasn’t that I was these things. I was anything but needy, having chosen to balance my friends and my relationships equally ever since I could date. My dedication to all aspects of my life reflected a stronger sense of independence than any Beyoncé song could convey.

And irrational could only begin to describe the list of words loosely tossed at me in a feeble attempt to diminish my sense of intuitive knowledge and self.

It was that I was willing to be vulnerable, and thus willing to feel such a way I had.

After the video ended, I spent a great deal of time thinking, really thinking, about who I was. And by the end of it, a whole two hours later of list-making and songwriting, I came to the obvious, but not as understood realization that I was human.

I made mistakes. I wasn’t perfect, and I certainly didn’t try to pretend I was. But above all, I was open enough with myself in order to be vulnerable. And that was arguably what was most beautiful about me.

All of us fear the idea of vulnerability, whether we like to admit it or not. We build walls around us to keep out what scares us most like heartbreak, pain, jealousy, rejection and endings. We distract ourselves with things, places, and people that may not give us much joy, but certainly help us avoid the thoughts that torture us.

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But as Brown states in her video, “When we numb the bad, we numb the good too.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m terrified of change. I’m terrified of what will happen, or what won’t. To be honest, most of the time I’m crossing my fingers behind my back and hoping to God that a miracle in the shape of a comfortable reality will lend itself my way. But I know that’s not the way it goes.

And ultimately I don’t think I’d accept such a fate.

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, even if there’s no guarantee, we must love with our whole hearts…practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror…and to believe we are enough.”

In life, there’s no sticker of guarantee. There’s no promise you’re going to make the varsity team, get straight A’s, graduate from college, find the job of your dreams or settle down with the person of your dreams. But if we never try, then there’s a positive guarantee we’ll only be disappointing ourselves.

At the end of the day, I know I’m not perfect. I know I have a lifetime of learning left to go and a list of lessons I have yet to fill. I know I’m still that same little girl who cries to her parents, gives her whole heart and loves even with a question mark hanging in the balance.

But I am enough, whether or not I have a valentine to call my own.

And in looking back, I’m so grateful for those moments of vulnerability and heartbreak and pain because it gave me the courage I needed to continue on, become stronger, and to never give up, even in the face of uncertainty.

It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but who says it has to be a bad thing? I know I wouldn’t have it any other way, and deep down, neither would Brene Brown.

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Featured photo credit: vulnerability/rebecca nicole montana via flickr.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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