Power in Vulnerability

by Erik Reagan

Virtual one on one

Every oth­er week or so I get a ques­tion from some­one who knows I own a busi­ness. They’re ask­ing how busi­ness is going. And it seems they often expect a shield­ed and vague answer.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to the sur­prise I get when I’m will­ing to men­tion the things I’m strug­gling with and work­ing on at work. Most peo­ple tend to expect a gener­ic ​“Good” answer — regard­less of real­i­ty. It often goes some­thing like this:

Them: So how’s business?
Me: [hon­est answer]
Them: Oh.

I’ve expe­ri­enced this con­sis­tent­ly for the past five years or so since I decid­ed to give real­is­tic answers. Some­times the answer is ​“things are amaz­ing!” Oth­er times it’s ​“pret­ty good but still plen­ty to fix at the moment.” And then there’s the ​“man, it’s exhaust­ing and real­ly dif­fi­cult right now.”

The real­i­ty, though, is that the health of a busi­ness is like the health of a per­son. It’s not a sin­gle met­ric or measurement.

As a sim­ple par­al­lel, con­sid­er my own health sim­pli­fied to three things: diet, sleep, and exer­cise. If I’m eat­ing well and exer­cis­ing, but my sleep is hor­ri­ble, I’ll be on the strug­gle bus in no time. A busi­ness ver­sion of that might be sales, pro­duc­tion, and culture/​morale. If two are sol­id and one is jacked up, you have problems.

(There’s more than these things but this sim­pli­fies the parallel.)

So back to the top­ic: my answer to ​“how is busi­ness” is usu­al­ly pret­ty con­tex­tu­al. I’ll men­tion the good and the chal­leng­ing. And it’s the ​“chal­leng­ing” part of the answer that usu­al­ly catch­es peo­ple off guard.

And so far, the per­son who asks the ques­tion is almost always thank­ful I gave a real answer. That seems to give them per­mis­sion to give a vul­ner­a­ble answer in return.

Truth and courage aren’t always com­fort­able, but they’re nev­er weakness.

Brené Brown

This prac­tice — giv­ing real, vul­ner­a­ble answers to that ques­tion — has helped me grow a lot over the years. I def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend it if you haven’t tried it. My only sug­ges­tion, if you plan to do this and haven’t made a habit of it before, is to con­sid­er your audi­ence when you answer. Some­times you just need to leave out spe­cif­ic issues or oppor­tu­ni­ties. (Con­fi­den­tial stuff, con­flict of inter­est stuff, etc.)

There’s pow­er in vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Pow­er gained and pow­er given.

Give it a try if you haven’t.

Opening Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Photo of Erik Reagan

Written by Erik Reagan