7 ways to show emotional vulnerability

I will never forget how my writing professor opened up my first grad school class with a vulnerable story about her book writing process. A highly successful and prolific author, with 14 books published, she kicked off our workshop by speaking about feedback.

She said that every time her editor emailed her a first set of edits and comments, she would be devastated. She spent at least an entire day in bed moping every time (that’s 14+ days of her life). Eventually, she would move past moping, to processing, and then on to editing her manuscript.

The story stuck with me and changed the way I receive feedback on my own work. I felt from that point forward that it was okay to feel crushed—at least for a while. It was okay to spend time and energy feeling bad, as long as my plan was to eventually spring to action.

The point is this: my professor’s willingness to share her vulnerable story imprinted on mine and my classmates’ memories and changed our perspective.

Why is it that vulnerability is so powerful? And what exactly is vulnerability?

Vulnerability is consciously choosing to wear certain emotions on your sleeve.

1. Vulnerability can you help improve your emotional intelligence skills

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions for yourself and in your interactions in order to be more effective. Vulnerability is basically an exercise in tuning into and managing your emotions as you interact. Vulnerability encourages authenticity and real connection.

2. And emotional intelligence can help you be vulnerable

Vulnerability requires emotional intelligence because you have to recognize and understand your emotions so that you can share them at the right time and in the right way. My professor couldn’t share her story if she hadn’t understood what it meant to her and how it would help us as we engaged in our first graduate workshop.

3. To be clear, vulnerability is not self-serving

This means you must be thoughtful about what you share, when you share it, and why. That means:

  1. Don’t overshare and dump your emotions on other people without purpose or thought. That’s emotional dumping or projecting, not vulnerability.
  2. Don’t treat vulnerability as a strategy to get what you want. That’s manipulation not vulnerability.

Like my professor’s example, vulnerability should take into account the receiving party and what your vulnerability will make them think and feel.

Ways To Show Vulnerability

Bees need flowers, and flowers need bees. Bees rely on flowers for nectar, and flowers rely on bees for pollination (they carry pollen from flower to flower as it rubs off on their legs). Like bees and flowers, vulnerability and EQ are symbiotic. They rely on one another to be effective. When working hand-in-hand, each helps the other do more than it could have on its own. Here are 7 ways to show vulnerability and how EQ can help. Start to use these approaches to build your emotional intelligence and to deepen your relationships and your life.

1. Tell It Like It Is

In On Death and Dying the author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist who worked with dying patients, outlines the five most common regrets people shared to her on their deathbed. One of the five was people who regretted “not saying what I think.”

Even people with exceptionally strong morals can have trouble speaking up to others. To do so, you have to overcome an onslaught of emotions telling you you’ll be rejected by others for going against the grain.

How EQ Can Help: A fundamental way to understand yourself and your emotions is to know your values and beliefs. Practice revisiting your values and beliefs often. That way you will be quicker to recognize when they’re breached and quicker to say something in response.

2. Abandon Your Ego and Admit Your Shortcomings

When the now famous author Raymond Carver began to work with his editor, Gordon Lish, Lish did something unexpected. He crossed out word after word, stripping an already simple style into a style of writing that was entirely unique. The result was a new genre of fiction called “dirty realism.” An overlooked aspect of Lish and Carver’s collaboration is Carver’s humility in seeing that the changes improved his work and took it to a new level. Many authors would have been too offended by Lish’s heavy-handedness to accept all the changes, but Carver’s ability to see something he hadn’t helped create a whole new genre.

Admitting your shortcomings isn’t just about letting go of your ego; it’s also about seeing an opportunity. Acknowledging your shortcomings offers you a chance to reflect realistically on your abilities and a chance to collaborate with people whose strengths and weaknesses complement your own.

Keep in mind that there is a time and a place for admitting your shortcomings. You may not want to lay out all your weaknesses as you try to win a client, wow an interviewer, or advocate for funding.

How EQ Can Help: Admitting your shortcomings demands that you lean into your fear of uncomfortable emotions. It can feel embarrassing and even awkward to tell people what you’re bad at.

3. Don’t Live in Guilt. Be Accountable

Picture the public figure who does something wrong. What she did isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but instead of owning up to her mistake and apologizing, she rails against everyone around her. She lashes out, refuses she did wrong, and makes a fool of herself in front of an audience of uncomfortable fans. Everyone just wanted an apology.

This happens all the time, usually because people fall prey to their own fear. They can’t face the dark emotions behind their wrongdoing, and they can’t overcome their discomfort to apologize. The ironic thing is, if they could just get vulnerable enough to face those emotions and apologize, they might not feel all those negative emotions with such intensity (and they wouldn’t lose their fanbase and respect in the process).

Next time you’re afraid to hold yourself accountable, consider the upsides. Short-term, accountability helps you overcome your guilt and move forward. Long-term, it builds trust with the person you wronged, which then builds relationships.

It’s worth noting an exception to this example: Sometimes a mistake is so minor or easily fixed that it doesn’t make sense to bring it to the attention of the people around you. In that case, just fix your mistake.

How EQ Can Help: Emotional intelligence can help you step into the shoes of the people you affected with your actions. This helps zoom out past your own pity party to see how holding yourself accountable will help everyone move forward.

4. Share Failure Stories with the Same Pride You Share Successes

If you think about it, nearly every great story is full of failure. In Star Wars, Luke fails to defeat Darth Vader and loses his arm. In Ana Karenina, Ana fails almost constantly as a lover, a mother, and a wife. Failure triggers some of the most fundamental emotions and insights, and therefore makes for impactful storytelling.

The funny thing about this is that even though we constantly watch, read, and listen to examples of failure, we are afraid to share our own. Instead of seeing our failures as a step in our own hero’s journey, we see them as examples of weakness that will lead to rejection.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our failures, just like failures in movies, can show other people what matters to you, what you’re willing to struggle for, and what you’ve learned.

How EQ Can Help: Self-talk is at the heart of emotion management. How we speak to ourselves is a big part of who we are. Take better control of your self-talk so you can take control of the story you tell yourself every day. Start to reframe negative events as opportunities for learning. As you learn from your mistakes, sharing your failures and lessons learned will begin to feel exciting.

5. Aim to Be Honest, Not Nice (Because That Is Actually Nicer)

If it drives you insane when your significant other lets the dishes pile up, then you know all too well how your negative feelings can pile up alongside those dishes. The thing is, you are perhaps even more at fault than your significant other. Here’s why: You owe it to them to speak up when they have a habit that bothers you.

The same goes for delivering feedback, critiquing someone’s work, or asserting your preferred style of communication at work.

There’s nuance to this strategy though. If you call your significant other out for every little thing, that would of course be more mean than honest. So how do you distinguish?

Think of this decision as a scale. Your honesty should always deliver enough value to justify the confrontation. If you’re honest, but not that helpful, then it might not be necessary (commenting on physical appearance or typos/grammar come to mind).

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How EQ Can Help: It takes emotional intelligence to weigh out these scales and make a decision about whether or not to speak up. When you do decide to speak up, it takes emotional intelligence to deliver these thoughts with grace and respect.

6. Don’t Just Feel That You Care, Show it! 

One of the worst feelings is that sense of regret from not properly showing someone you care. A colleague who leaves, a friend who is grieving, a teacher who changed your life…

Learn to move past your fear of sentimentality and sharing your emotions. You will never regret trying to show someone you care. You will often regret failing to do so.

This is not about sucking up to higher-ups or trying to make yourself look noble and empathetic in front of others. This is about truly showing that you care when you do.

How EQ Can Help: Emotional intelligence helps you see that no matter how strong your feelings are in your head, no one can see inside your head. It’s up to you to make your thoughts and feelings heard and understood.

7. Get to Know Your Vulnerabilities Like the Back of Your Hand

Vulnerabilities are thumbprints. No two people have the exact same vulnerabilities because we develop them throughout our lives as the result of our lived experiences and the unique ways that we’ve learned to deal with them. Seneca wrote about how different people’s vulnerabilities were some 2000 years ago:

“This one wants consideration for high rank; that one, for good looks. One longs to be thought highly refined; another, deeply learned. One can’t abide arrogance; another, stubbornness…One thinks it an injury to be asked for something; another, an insult not to be asked.” Seneca’s On Anger

Take the time to reflect on your vulnerabilities and how they inhibit you. As you build your understanding, you will be better equipped to express those vulnerabilities.

How EQ Can Help: Reflect on the situations when you feel vulnerable, and the emotions that surround those situations. This will help you better understand your vulnerabilities and how you tend to act when you feel them.

From Insights to Action

Think about how many shallow conversations and meetings we’ve all had throughout our lives. Vulnerability is a genuine way to connect more deeply with the people around you. Start to get vulnerable in the ways above, and your interactions, relationships, and your life as a whole will deepen in meaning and significance.

For more easy-to-implement strategies to improve your EQ, purchase our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

To learn more about emotional intelligence training and TalentSmartEQ’s programs and solutions, please visit: https://www.talentsmarteq.com/contact/ or contact TalentSmartEQ at 888-818-SMART.