1. Shed your armor. A real warrior is vulnerable. A real warrior is naked. A real warrior forgoes self-protection and plunges into the depths of dangerousness because he KNOWS that when you expect nothing, failure is impossible. He KNOWS that vigorous growth only occurs in those moments when you feel totally destroyed.
In The Tao De Ching, Lao Tzu uses the metaphor of water to represent this warrior-like strength: ‘Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong.’
What are you yielding to? Have you reclaimed your right to be vulnerable? And how much longer do you want to deprive yourself of breaking out in order to protect others from who you really are?
2. Disclose your vulnerabilities. You’re not perfect. You’re not infallible. You don’t know everything. So, instead trying to convince everyone you meet that you’re invincible, lead with weakness. Surrender to your imperfections. Hell, even The Death Star had a weak spot.
Remember: Vulnerable is approachable. Vulnerable is human. Vulnerable is relatable. Vulnerable is powerful. Have you reclaimed your right to be vulnerable? How are you revealing that vulnerability to others?
3. Dare to be dumm. Three simple words: ‘I don’t know.’ Say it more. It cuts down on the pressure to know everything. Plus, pretending like you DO know when you don’t cracks your foundation, your integrity. It’s a falsehood in your personality, and most people can smell it.
Being vulnerable, however, means being secure enough to be who you are, even if who you are is wrong. What’s more, in a sea of gargantuan professional egos, your vulnerability will stand out as a refreshing change. Are you willing to admit your ignorance? Are you someone others can feel dumm in front of?
4. Comfort zones are highly overrated. Wearing a nametag everyday doesn’t just encourage people to say hello to me. It also invites people to stare at me, make fun of me, point at me, spatially violate me, yell at me, curse at me, share overly personal information with me, attempt to sell drugs to me, start fights with me – on one occasion, make out out with me in the middle of a crowded bar – and on a few occasions, stalk me. Now, I didn’t provoke any of these reactions in any way, other than that fact that I was wearing a nametag.
So, while I’m not suggesting you do the same, I WILL say that I’ve experienced tremendous growth in my personal and professional life by intentionally inviting uncomfortable situations. How did you make yourself uncomfortable yesterday? How much time do you spend in your zone of discomfort?
5. Stop being right. Enough arguing. Enough proving your point. Enough asserting your opinion. Enough rationalizing everything someone says into (yet another) statement you disagree with. Stop being right. It’s annoying. It’s unapproachable. It’s antithetical to effective listening. Show me a person who always has to be right and I’ll show you a person who’s afraid to be vulnerable.
This used to be a spot of weakness in my own career as a professional speaker because, technically, my clients pay me to provide answers. And my audience members sort of expect me to be right. Which, if you’ve ever attended one of my programs, is only the case about 34% of the time!
So, I’ve learned to let it go. And I hope you can do the same in your own world. How would you treat people if you weren’t trying so hard to prove them wrong? What insecurity is being disguised by your relentless need to be right?
6. Admit to ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with BEING ignorant, only STAYING ignorant. After all, ignorant simply means, ‘not knowing.’ So, consider these Phrases That Payses to demonstrate your vulnerability: ‘I don’t know what that means,’ ‘I never thought of it that way!’ ‘I’ve never heard that before…’ and ‘Wait, you just lost me.’
When was the last time you admitted to not knowing something? How could admitting to your ignorance make you more approachable?
7. Just sit quiet. Your hand doesn’t have to shoot up first. Next time you attend a meeting or sit on a panel, play a game called ‘Let See How Long I Can Go Without Contributing.’ This will force you to listen FIRST and hear everyone else out before stating your position.
Yes, it takes self-control; but you never know – you may hear something that adds to, modifies or changes your opinion. Are you monopolizing the listening or the talking? How do YOU feel when engaging with a conversational narcissist?
8. Be confidently uncertain. It keeps curiosity burning. It sparks innovation and initiative. It helps you stay open to multiple options and solutions. What’s more, your willingness to be open-minded gives others more room to be creative and self-starting.
Suggestion: When people ask you questions, don’t reach for ready-made replies. It’s OK to pause. It’s OK to think. If not, you become a victim of your own mindset. Instead, seek AN answer; not THEE answer.
Remember: Exactitude is dangerous. People who ‘just know’ are annoying. And the only wrong answer is the one you’re not willing to listen to. How many right answers are you willing to accept? How many of the decisions you make each day have absolutely correct answers?
9. Take Bikram Yoga. I’ve been practicing for a little over a year now. It’s been an enlightening journey in many ways, one of which is the constant confrontation with absolute vulnerability.
For those who’ve never taken a class, allow me to summarize the practice: The room is 105 degrees. The class is 90 minutes. You’re basically naked. You sweat constantly, but you can’t wipe. You have to stare at yourself in the mirror the whole time. And you’re two feet away from a bunch of half-naked, sweaty strangers on all sides.
Oh, and did I mention that your body is contorted into positions that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush? Now THAT’S great practice being vulnerable. Find out if there’s a studio close to you. It’ll change your life forever. Or, you’ll totally hate it and never come back. Which is cool too. Do you have the courage to take a Bikram Yoga class? What would you have to lose if you did? An extra five pounds?
10. Grow bigger ears. People don’t listen for a number of reasons, one of which is the fear of being changed. They’re afraid they might hear things they don’t want to hear. Or, they’re afraid that they might actually come to see something differently, and maybe even (GASP!) change their mind. That’s why I love wearing a nametag everyday. The people I meet – who just start talking to me out of nowhere – provide me with endless opportunities to practice listening. Even if they appear to be wackos.
Here’s my suggestion: Set a weekly goal to listen – all the way through – to conversations that make you uncomfortable. Whether it’s an employee sharing her non-traditional political or religious views, or a coworker expressing an opinion that you totally disagree with. Just try it. All the way through. You’ll be fine. And you never know what you might learn. Why are you listening? What, specifically, are you doing to keep yourself open minded? And are you aware of your personal biases that block effective listening?
11. Be a human being. Yes, that’s actually one of my suggestions. It shouldn’t have to be, but it is. After all, human beings are naturally vulnerable creatures. So, your challenge is to fully integrate your humanity into your profession. That means values before vocation. Individuality before industry. Personality before profession.
For example, I do coaching and consulting, but I never call it that because those two words are so saturated in the professional services market that they’ve lost their meaning. Instead, I humanized my position as a Thought Leader by introducing a service called Rent Scott’s Brain. You can get more human than that! Are you a droid? Are you leading with your profession or your person? And what unnecessary title is preventing people from getting to know the REAL you?
12. Disclose your vulnerability. ‘Actually, I’m terrified.’ Try saying some variation of that phrase more often. You’ll find that the willingness to admit that you’re scared, exposed and even in some cases, helpless, instantly humanizes you.
And the cool part is, when you have the courage and candor to integrate that openness into your daily conversations, two things happen: (1) you grant people permission to disclose their own vulnerabilities, and (2) they will respond to, and have more respect for you. What terrifies you? Who would feel more at ease if you shared that you were scared?
13. Practice radical honesty. Look. People are tired of being lied to. Period. Just try being honest. Like, abnormally honest. Be microscopically truthful. Choose truth over consistency. People will notice. Honest is so rare it’s almost become remarkable.
For now, ask yourself: How are you branding your honesty? How much money are you losing by not being abnormally honest with your customers?
14. Welcome, address and honor feedback. Years ago when I worked in Guest Services at Ritz-Carlton, our GM would hold regular Listening Meetings. No agenda. No structure. No nothing. Anything goes. And he would just stand at the front of the auditorium in front of hundreds of employees and answer their questions.
Now, I’m not talking about a pre-approved list of questions his assistant filtered before the meeting. Whatever people wanted. Wow. How are you creating a Question-Friendly Environment? Do you have a suggestion box or a question box?
15. Publicly celebrate mistakes. Doing so makes other people – especially your employees – more likely to open up to you with their ideas, thoughts and concerns. Why? Because you’ve PROVEN to them that you support failure. See, it is only when you’re willing to surrender to your own vulnerability that people trust you more.
And the cool part is, the more you practice this, the less judgmental YOU become in the future when they share THEIR vulnerabilities. How are you leveraging your vulnerabilities to gain people’s trust?
16. Acknowledge your slips. You’re not perfect. Nobody is. And the people who come off as too perfect and too disciplined and ‘too’ anything are either annoying or lying. Even after 3,000+ days, I sometimes walk halfway down the street before realizing I forgot to stick on my nametag. Woops!
So, the difference between vulnerable people and everybody else is that when YOU screw up, you admit it. And your honesty not only doubles your learning, it make you more human, more relatable and more approachable.
And sure, discipline is essential. But part of being disciplined is developing the ability to know when NOT to be disciplined. As legendary songwriter Tom Waits says in the movie Coffee & Cigarettes, ‘Now that I’ve quit, I can have one.’ Hmm. Interesting theory. Do you listen to the way you speak to yourself when you make mistakes? What would I have to learn about this mistake to make it no longer a mistake?
17. Self-disclose weaknesses. Look, incompleteness and imperfection are part of life. The secret is learning to be honest about your inadequacies. Because when you do this, it increases your credibility. That’s what’s great about Bikram Yoga. You spend 90 minutes confronting yourself. Literally.
Nothing but the mirror’s reflection of your imperfect self: moles, scars, stretch marks and all. It’s terrifying and difficult for many, but great practice with non-judgmental acceptance for all.
The cool part is, the more often you practice being honest with YOURSELF about yourself – yoga or no yoga – the more often you can do so with others. The challenge, of course, is first being courageous enough to look squarely at your own screw-ups, imperfection and vulnerabilities. What’s your system for practicing constant self-confrontation? When was the last time you sat uninterrupted and quiet with just your thoughts?
18. Embrace your inner beginner. Bikram Choudhury, founder of the aforementioned yoga practice, is known for his mantra: ‘Never too late, never too old, never too bad to or sick to do this yoga and start from scratch again.’ So, whether you practice yoga or not, your challenge is to release the grip of your ego and get back to basics.
A simple suggestion for doing so is to regularly read ‘For Dummies’ books. They’re fantastic. I’ve probably read a few dozen volumes of that series, ranging from Consulting for Dummies to Buddhism for Dummies to Sex For Dummies. And what’s interesting is how many people I meet who tell me they wouldn’t be caught DEAD reading any of those books.
Why? Because they think that makes them dumb. When in fact, the opposite is true. People who read those books aren’t dummies – they’re smarties. How are you embracing your inner beginner? How many ‘For Dummies’ books have you read? Are you willing to start from scratch again?
19. Admit your truths. The earlier, the better. Especially if you’re giving a presentation. Doing so builds a foundation of credibility and trust, disarms the immediate preoccupations of your audience. Plus, admitting your truths subconsciously grants other people permission to feel comfortable in their truths too.
For that reason, I always begin my speeches with some variation of the disclaimer, ‘I am not going to stand up here and pretend to be one of you.’ How could I? I’m a writer. A speaker. An entrepreneur. I’m a guy who wears a nametag 24-7! And 95% of the time, my audiences will appreciate that kind of upfront honesty.
See, when we are willing to admit our truth, THAT is when real connection, real listening and real engagement occurs. When we can stop bullshitting each other, lift the veils and simply BE our imperfect selves without judgment, without appraisal and without worry. Are you read to open the door to your truth? Are you willing to risk living your truth?
20. Let the world be your editor. Consider everything you write and publish as a ‘work in progress.’ Always open for discussion and up for debate. After all, Van Gough once said, ‘No great work of art is ever finished.’ That’s that way I’ve always written, and found the results to be worthwhile.
Dave Gray, creator of ‘The Unbook,’ is even starting a movement around this idea. He suggests we ‘Expand the diameter of our inner circle, inviting more people to engage in the early phases of creation.’ Gray explains, ‘The unbook accelerates the process, making the piece far more adaptive to change. The author can involve readers earlier and respond to criticism faster.’ Hmm. Another interesting theory. What if you saw everything you created as unfinished? How would the quality of your work improve if you allowed others to make deposits into your creative bank account?
21. Engage in unpredictable situations. Show me a person who hates surprises and I’ll show you a person who’s afraid to be vulnerable. Instead, I encourage you to leave familiar territory and cherish uncertain ground. To break the veil and blaze new trails. Once again, this is another benefit of wearing a nametag everyday. I have no idea who I might meet or what crazy adventures may ensue. It’s kind of exciting!
Here are three suggestions: (1) The Urbanspoon app on the iPhone is a good way to practice this on a small scale. (2) You could consider attending one concert, play or event each month that you would never normally seek out. (3) Pull a Yes Man and pick a totally random city at the airport to vacation to. Talk about unpredictable! Remember: Certainty is boring and compliance is dangerous. How predictable was your yesterday? Are you allowing your fear of spontaneity to block your vulnerability?
22. Be more yielding. Accept what is. Be open to whatever emerges. Learn to trust what is happening. Don’t fight where you are. Don’t struggle against the moment. And stop wasting energy protesting. Stop resisting and start loving. Stop trying so hard and let things happen, as they need to.
First example: Our current economy sucks. Fine. Stop whining and start welcoming the challenge. Instead of crying, ‘Why me?’ start wondering, ‘What’s next?’ Second example: Business sucks. Fine. Stop lamenting and start leveraging. Brainstorm a list ways to use the current crisis as an outreach opportunity. How many futile battles are you fighting? How are you sharpening your rut-fighting skills? And what three actions could you execute TODAY to stir the pot?
23. Four words: I need your help. This is one of the most powerful phrases in any language. And it works because it’s open, honest, admits vulnerability and appeals to another human being’s inherent helpful nature. So, here’s my challenge to you:
o Commit to using this phrase at least three times a day, every day, for the next three months. (It helps to do this exercise with a partner.)
o Keep a journal of every time you say it.
o Then, hold each other accountable by revisiting your entries and experiences once a week.
When three months is up, celebrate with sushi. I guarantee you will double your vulnerability, triple your humility and quadruple your income. (OK, you won’t quadruple your income. But at least it’ll be great practice with being vulnerable.) How many people did you ask for help today? Do you know a universe of people you can reach out to?
24. Vulnerability isn’t surrender. An important final distinction. Vulnerability is about openness. It’s about the ability to let yourself be seen as you are, possibly even exposed in uncomfortable situations, and being cool with that. Over the past nine years I’ve struggled with this, as wearing a nametag 24-7 completely eliminates my anonymity whatsoever.
But the cool part is: The nametag paints me into a good corner. It’s forces me to stay true to who I am, all the time, regardless of the situation.
And what I’ve (finally) figured out is the following process: The more vulnerable you are, the more open you are. The more open you are, the less you have to hide. The less you have to hide, the more relaxed you become. And the more relaxed you become, the more effectively you can communicate with others. Cool. With whom do you need to be more open? When does the feeling of formality keep you from communicating clearly and freely?
OK! It’s summary time. Here are the twenty-four practices for turning vulnerability into profitability:
1. Shed your armor.
2. Disclose your vulnerabilities.
3. Dare to be dumm.
4. Comfort zones are highly overrated.
5. Stop being right.
6. Admit to ignorance.
7. Just sit quiet.
8. Be confidently uncertain.
9. Take Bikram Yoga.
10. Grow bigger ears.
11. Be a human being.
12. Disclose your vulnerability.
13. Practice radical honesty.
14. Welcome, address and honor feedback.
15. Publicly celebrate mistakes.
16. Acknowledge your slips.
17. Self-disclose weaknesses.
18. Embrace your inner beginner.
19. Admit your truths.
20. Let the world be your editor.
21. Engage in unpredictable situations.
22. Be more yielding.
23. Four words: I need your help.
24. Vulnerability isn’t surrender.