Vulnerability is a word that has been heavily misunderstood in business.
I find that people associate being vulnerable with the literal definition of being weak, fragile, powerless, exposed or some other definition that implies vulnerability cannot be leveraged as a source of power.
What people are not taught about vulnerability is that it can be used in business as a source of strength to connect with your clients, employees and partners on a deeper level.
When you recognize how to strategically apply vulnerability in the workplace you will actually strengthen your partnerships.
I have learned (from years of teaching on this topic) that when you ask someone if there is a place for vulnerability in the workplace they emphatically say “no!” and proceed to explain why it’s not professional to show your deeper more emotional self to others.
If you are one of those people, hear me out. Let me share the other side of vulnerability that you may not have been exposed to yet.
There’s a right way to share your vulnerability
I observe people who use vulnerability the right way in business and I see how it makes them magnetic. When you use it the right way, you become more attractive and you look stronger; people want to be around you and learn everything you know.
Think of a tough situation you’ve had to deal with in your life that you were able to overcome. There are hundreds of ways you can choose to share this story. The key element within your story is to share how you were a) challenged and b) how you created success from an unlikely space.
In essence, using vulnerability as a strength is when you can share a story of sensitive nature while empowering the person on the receiving end of the story.
How to share your vulnerability and maintain authority
Let’s use my own personal story as an example.
I was living in New York City during the 9/11 attacks and battling many serious health issues including fibromyalgia, widespread muscle pain and tenderness.
Doctors told me that it was not possible to heal from this condition and that I would be in pain and on medication for the rest of my life.
(Revealing this part of my life is certainly sharing vulnerability because I was in pain and suffering, but what I share next changes the story from an example of weakness to strength.)
I remember feeling as though I’d hit rock bottom. One day while sitting in a pain rehabilitation center I made a choice that changed the direction of my life and allowed me to step out of illness into wellness. I decided to focus on becoming healthy and happy, a mindset shift that put me on a new path to healing.
Thankfully, I was able to fully heal from fibromyalgia and get off all of my medications (to the shock of my doctors!). I was sick and chose to turn it around and get well. My personal transformation also inspired me to start a business that empowers people.
Sharing that story of how I overcame a huge challenge allows people to see where I gained my passion to start a business on a personal level.
Many entrepreneurs have a personal story behind “why” they started a business. If you can tell it in a way that shows how you overcame something to get where you are now, people will want to hear more and learn how they similarly conquer life’s toughest challenges.
Sharing your story of challenge to triumph gives people an opportunity to connect with you on a deeper level while still appearing strong and operating from a place of authority.
Going from challenge to triumph, what successful people get right
One celebrity that I have seen use her vulnerability to make millions is singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Her albums include many songs about the heartache of a relationship breakup, but is sure to follow up with how she is stronger because of the experience. Swift is always sharing her goofy and non-perfect side because it helps her fans connect on a deeper level.
When we try to cover up our flaws, we usually push people away because they will find us too perfect and unrelatable.
Motivational speaker and self-help author Tony Robbins is another mega success that uses vulnerability to great advantage in his business.
He shares stories of his abusive childhood and how his mother chased him out of the house with a knife when he was 17. He realized at a young age that he could crumble or create a life that was greater than what he was experiencing.
In an interview with CNBC he said: “‘If my mom had been the mother I thought I wanted, I wouldn’t be as driven; I wouldn’t be as hungry,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t have suffered, so I probably wouldn’t have cared about other people’s suffering as much as I do. And it made me obsessed with wanting to understand people and help create change.'”
This experience is one that he often references to illustrate how he turned a rocky childhood into a life mission that motivates and inspires millions. By listening to Robbins his audience knows how he personally overcame obstacles and learns how they can do the same.
The accessible side of business
I have always loved the phrase: Information tells and stories sell.
When smart entrepreneurs share their softer (more accessible) side, they are sure to reveal lessons that empower and uplift us. This is where we find depth and strength in vulnerability.
You have the ability to use your vulnerability as a source of empowerment and strength. Now you know how to share your story in a way that creates a bigger impact for those you serve. Vulnerability in business exponentially increases your ability to serve more people and deeply connect with those who can relate to you and your mission.
Remember, don’t stop after telling an emotional story. Keep talking and finish out your story by empowering the listener with how you grew because of your experience.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Ashley Stamatinos is an entrepreneur, a #1 bestselling co-author of multiple books and also widely known as the Empath Expert. She has been interviewed multiple times on TV for her work, and can be seen on PBS and the Lifestyle Channel. As a coach, speaker and teacher it’s her mission to give highly sensitive women, who are overwhelmed and stressed, the tools to find inner calm within their busy lives. She is the creator of “12 Secrets to Turning Your Emotional Sensitivities into Strengths.” Connect with Ashley on Facebook and Twitter.