Vulnerability 101: How to Build Rapport with Absolutely Anyone

Written by Scott June 29, 2011

Be Vulnerable

“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.”

-Raymond Hull

Last week I attended an event called The Founder’s Circle.

Picture 35 founders from around San Francisco all in one place to eat great food, sip great scotch, snack on local dark chocolate and engage in some of the most inspiring chat I’ve had in months, all in the setting of a classic antique shop housed in what felt like a 1920’s barn.

This was a pretty epic event. I talked to two guys back to back who had each founded and sold 4 or 5 companies. They were in their early 30’s. I immediately felt myself thinking about how I could come up with stories to compare to theirs…

Then I noticed something odd. These people were talking as much about failure and challenge as they were about success and accomplishment. Before I knew it, so was I.

Then I remembered how the night started.

As we sat for dinner, the host made a brilliant toast and asked us to turn over our menus to find four questions:

1. When am I not authentic?

2. What challenges me?

3. Where am I playing small in life right now?

4. What has heart and meaning for me?

These were our discussion topics for the night. A room full of people normally required to put off just the right image for employees, investors and onlookers, were given permission to leave all that at the door. And for a night, not have to stack up to anything.

The evening was unbelievably vulnerable. We loved it.

When was the last time you were you?

I mean totally honest with who you are? When did you let it all hang out for anyone to see?

For many it’s been so long it’s become tough to distinguish who we are from who we represent ourselves being. It’s no surprise though. When you ask someone how their business is coming along or how things are at their job, how often do you get a reply like “oh man things are brutal, I think we might have to close the doors?” Instead an inquiry like that is often taken as an invitation to cherry pick the top 5% of what they’re doing.

We hear so much talk of success that we start to feel like that’s all we should be sharing.

The problem is it’s fake.

Nothing goes right for anyone all the time. And anyone representing that it does is full of sh*t. Seriously, we all know the guy who can’t stop talking about his most recent monster deal or sweet new porsche, without ever a mention of challenge or difficulty. How much do you trust that person? How close are you to them? How much time do you want to spend around them?

And social networks are the epitome of it. Sure it’s cool and fun to see all the great things people are up to, but that’s all you see on Facebook, Twitter or most blogs. The wildest country I just visited, the club I went to last night, the business I just launched. It all revolves around promoting your best work.

But by default not all of our work is our best. Some of it is going to suck. You are going to get rejected, you are going to fail, you are going to feel alone. Imagine what would happen if you shared on Facebook, not only the bad-ass raise you just got, but instead the job you are deathly terrified of losing or the call you can hardly wait to get from the doctor. How would people respond? Who of your 2,014 ‘friends’ might reach out and offer a new perspective and unique way to help?

Dinner parties, conversations, social networks, blogs, you name it – these are not venues meant to be exploited for empty self-promotion. They are to connect on a real level – good and bad. The issue is not that we’re sharing all the very best, it’s that we aren’t sharing the rest of what makes up who we actually are. Optimism and honesty are not mutually exclusive.

Without vulnerability there is no connection.

We all have razor sharp B.S. meters. As soon as we sense someone isn’t being genuine, they’re dismissed. Whether you know it or not your subconscious is doing it.

After all, it’s impossible to have a real connection, I’m talking deep and meaningful rapport, without actually knowing who you’re talking to. Sure you may be cordial, find a way to work together or even think you’re friends. But you’ll always be missing something. Something big. The something that makes two people connect as husband and wife or two buddies become lifelong best friends. It’s because at some point they decided to be open. Simple as that.

The world and our experiences within it are all based on genuine personal connection. Without it we miss out on the best parts (and end up being pretty miserable in the process). I challenge you to be more of who you are.

For some real motivation, check out this TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability, which inspired this post.

Let yourself be seen.

Be human. No one gets it right all the time. No one gets through life totally unharmed. The people you meet want to see you. They want to know you. They don’t only want to know who you are when you’re performing at your top 10%. Sure they want to experience that too, but not at the loss of who you really are. Share your challenges with those around you. The things that terrify you, the hardest parts of life. Watch what happens. For an example, Corbett Barr recently let himself ‘be seen’ in a pretty entertaining post: 33 Things I’ve Never Told You.

People want to help – give them the chance.

My guess is you have one or a few people you genuinely open up to. That’s a good start, but what about everyone else?

People genuinely want to support, help and comfort others. It’s human nature. But they can’t help someone if that person is busy being someone else. If you let more of the world see who you are, who else might end up in your corner? There’s only one way to find out.

Notice how deeply and quickly you connect with almost anyone, even within minutes after meeting, when you open with who you are, your challenges, your fears. Not only will they have your back, but you being you gives others permission to be them. The connection deepens. If that goes on long enough, suddenly the world is operating on a totally new level.

Believe you’re enough – Don’t should all over yourself.

We don’t act ourselves around others because we either want or think we should be someone else. We think we need more money, a better story, a more impactful job, a hotter body.

Well I have some news. You’ll never be anyone else. So stop shoulding all over yourself!

It’s a fine balance – to be excited about working your ass off to get to where you want to be, while staying satisfied with who you are. The only person worthy of comparison is yourself. Everyone else has their own story and their own experience. If we knew at our core that we were enough, we’d never find a reason to represent anything or anyone else. Being yourself comes from knowing yourself.

Be Authentic.

The above questions from last week’s dinner spurred conversations I’d only had with my wife and a few friends prior. It was liberating.

I get scared to death with what I’m doing. I panic that I might blow up what I’ve created. I don’t spend as much time as I’d like around those I love. I get scared of being rejected. I can’t always do all the things I write about (that’s partly why I continue to write them – it’s as much for me as for you!), I get turned down almost weekly. I have days where I can’t get myself to pick up the phone even though making that call is the most important thing on my list.

I have no illusions that I have all the answers, nor that I do everything right. No one does. And that’s fine. As long as you don’t keep it to yourself. The world wants to know who you are. We want to help.

I challenge you to be bold. Be who you are. Embrace vulnerability.

Invest in a relationship without knowing if you’ll get your heart broken

Tell people your greatest fear

Say I love you first

Start a business that might fail

Do something that matters to you, no matter how unlikely the outcome

Share who you really are

Experience what matters

You’re right, all of the toughest emotions in life come from putting yourself out there – fear, loneliness, shame, unworthiness, inadequacy, you name it.

But this same vulnerability is also the only place where you can find true love, connection, creativity, belonging, joy or a life that truly means something.

You can’t have one without the other.

Decide to be open.

Show the world who you really are.

Watch what happens.

What is the last thing you want to share with tends of thousands of people you don’t know? Take your first vulnerable step and mention it in the comments below. Use a fake name if you must. Just get it out. Be human!

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Image Courtesy of Helga Weber

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