Vulnerability at Work: Rising Strong with Brené Brown

Caitlin Magidson

Caitlin works with students and alumni in Washington DC as a transformational Career Coach. She provides guidance around self-exploration, job search strategy, and networking through individualized coaching and professional development courses.

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Do you watch TED Talks? If not—start! If yes, you’ve probably seen Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability,” one of the most seen TED talks of all time. And guess what? I got to see her in person this month at a sponsored event by Politics & Prose and Sixth & I in Washington, DC (thanks to a kind co-worker!). Brené talked about her new book, Rising Strong, in which she explores vulnerability, shame, and the courage it takes to show up and be seen even in moments when we feel overwhelmed with emotion.

Ever have a co-worker say something you felt offended you, your mom, or your whole neighborhood? I have! How did you react? Brené talks about getting curious about what we feel and challenging the first draft story we make up in our minds about what is really going on.

Brené role-played a scenario to demonstrate.

The Scene: Carla and Brené walk out of a meeting and Brené says, “Hey, great meeting.” In response, Carla lets out a loud sigh and rolls her eyes before walking away.

Brené’s first draft story in her mind: “She is so mean! She hates me, I know I shouldn’t have shared what I said in the meeting… I know she doesn’t like my ideas and she doesn’t like me. I’ll never be good enough for her…you know, I never even liked her…

Wow! Our minds can build a lot of stories around what we perceive to be happening in our exchanges with others; the brain dislikes ambiguity. But what happens if Brené checks in with herself and follows up with Carla to see what was really happening?

Let’s take a look:

Brené: “Hi Carla, I noticed earlier when we left the meeting that you didn’t seem happy…do we need to clear anything up?

Carla: “Oh, I was just frustrated because I told my kids not to text me during important meetings but they kept blowing up my phone! I was just so frustrated!

As we see, Brené’s first draft story wasn’t true and by being vulnerable and checking in with Carla after a difficult experience, she learns what really happened.

But what if Carla really was mad at Brené?

Brené: “Hi Carla, I noticed earlier when we left the meeting that you didn’t seem happy…do we need to clear anything up?”

Carla: “Yes, I was so frustrated that you shared our whole strategy during that meeting when we agreed to wait until next month to share it with the team. You went ahead and did exactly what you wanted!

Brené: “You are right, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped ahead…I got excited and shared it without getting your approval first and that was wrong. Next time, though, if you are frustrated with me, I need you to professionally communicate that to me rather than rolling your eyes at me and walking away.

Brené is vulnerable in checking-in with Carla, takes ownership and responsibility for what she’s done, and at the same time sets boundaries with her co-worker about what is appropriate in communication.

It can be intimidating to challenge the first draft stories we come up when we face rejection and feel hurt. The job search itself is a very vulnerable process and showing up for anything is definitely putting ourselves out there; it’s risky. However, as Brené shares, “If you decide to lead a brave life, often enough, you will fall.” Failure, pain, and hurt are part of life’s journey. It’s through getting back up and “rising strong” that we grow. She says, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

Check out Brené’s TED Talk and look out for her new book, Rising Strong, in addition to her other best sellers.

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