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Are Empathy and Vulnerability Related?


We just got out of Halloween weekend. But before we head into the next holiday season, I want to talk about something scary - something that scares a lot of professionals: vulnerability. 


Up until recently, showing vulnerability was considered a weakness in business, especially in leadership. Business leaders have traditionally been expected to overflow with an overabundance of confidence.


However, too many leaders consistently express confidence as a façade to an equally valuable character trait, but one that they're really afraid to show: vulnerability. 


Everyone feels vulnerable at times, especially me. We all have weaknesses. No one is perfect. But in a business setting, many professionals think it’s unacceptable to show weakness. Up until recently, you wouldn't find many business and leadership books suggesting weakness as something to be praised. Usually, these books brag about a given leader’s ability to project strength, confidence and skill.


But being upfront and open with vulnerability is an important leadership trait. Being able to admit and share times of weakness - especially in a professional setting - is a way for you to earn trust from those you serve. Showing weakness and not hiding from imperfection lets others know that you are human.


Today, more business leaders and thought leaders are teaching us how vulnerability is an important leadership trait to be valued, not disdained. Brene Brown, TEDx speaker and best-selling author of Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, shows us that vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.


I don't know about you, but that makes vulnerability sound a little more appealing to me.


 I've been talking about empathy a lot lately. I mean - it is one of the 6 key behaviors in my SIMPLE Playbook to help you deliver simple experiences to your customers and to your employees.


So are empathy and vulnerability related? You bet!


It turns out, when you show a healthy level of vulnerability - when you help others understand your hopes, dreams, challenges and struggles - they're more likely to open up to you and share. And that makes it even easier for you to understand and empathize with them.


Like I shared previously, you can't learn to be more empathetic by simply acting more empathetically. There’s more to it than that. 


If you're going to empathetically see and understand the hopes, dreams, challenges and struggles in the people you serve, then you have to be able to recognize and understand those same things within yourself. If you've never had a remarkable customer experience, it'll be really difficult for you to describe to someone else what a remarkable experience should entail. If you've never felt frustration over not achieving a desired goal or outcome, it'll be hard to identify with someone else when they don’t achieve their desired goal or outcome.


Empathetic people are in touch with their own vulnerabilities. They can access their own struggles and better understand others’ struggles. Feeling truly heard, understood and cared for is something people experience so little today that when a vulnerable person meets us where we are and helps us feel that way, it's a much stronger experience.


Remember: it's easy to project confidence. But it's much harder — and bolder — to show vulnerability. I see you as a leader - a leader who isn't afraid to do the hard things. And when you do the hard things, you'll be viewed as the kind of leader that everyone wants to enthusiastically follow.

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