May 25, 2023
There’s a secret weapon in the workplace that you might not know about - or even how to use it. It’s called vulnerability, and it can be an extremely powerful if used in the right way.
In this episode, Tiffany shares seven helpful tips on how being vulnerable can build relationships and deepen your connection to other people. She takes it a step further and shows how you can use your vulnerability in leadership too, as it relates to humans leading humans in the workplace. Honesty can pay off more than you might think!
I'm a small town kid, born with a big city spirit. I choose to play a lot of awesome roles in life. Mom, wife, entrepreneur, CEO, board member, investor, and mentor.
17 years ago I founded a marketing consultancy and, ever since, my husband, JR, and I have been building our careers and our family on the exact same timeline. Yep, that means four kids, three businesses, two careers, all building towards one life we love. When I discovered I could purposefully embrace all of these "ands" in my life, it unlocked my world, and I want that for you too. I'm Tiffany Sauder, and this is Scared Confident.
I want to talk about vulnerability in the workplace. One of the most prevalent things I was asked about after my keynote address a couple weeks ago, as people came up to me afterwards and were asking me about things, it was this topic of vulnerability. It's clearly top of mind for everyone, and I had a lot of questions about what does it look like to be vulnerable in the workplace.
And so I have some notes here that I just want to walk through. For me, it's helpful to think about what things are sometimes by thinking first about what they aren't. Being vulnerable in the workplace does not mean that you are in an indiscernible way, sharing gory details with everyone about your life. That is not what it looks like at all, but it is presenting yourself through the lens, not just of your role and your competency, but of your humanity, and being honest with the people around you about what is going on.
I think people can take it too far and suddenly your stories, your troubles, become burdens that other people feel like they have to carry. Instead of it being, "Hey, look, this is me showing up as a person, really honestly, so that I can give you the space to show up really honestly as a person and we can do life and do things and grow companies together in a way that is not just performing, but also really being people together and accepting that life is not always perfect every single day."
So I'm going to go through 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 different things that I have here, and when I kind of thought a little bit more intentionally about vulnerability in the workplace.
The first is, if you're going to be vulnerable, you first have to be honest with yourself; about what is going on, what is troubling you, what is needing your attention, and where should you be focused on fixing or improving. So you have to first be honest with yourself. I use the analogy often of a door when I talk about vulnerability. If there is a door in front of you that is closed, whether you open it or not, does that change what's behind it? No, it doesn't, whether you open the door or you don't open it does not change what's behind it.
So when I talk about vulnerability, it's being willing to open the door in all the areas of our life, even the subconscious areas that are troubling us, and saying, "I'm going to look wholeheartedly, honestly, and as objectively as I can at the things that are grabbing my energy and intuitively kind of pulling me towards what's going on." So you have to first be honest with yourself if you're going to be vulnerable with other people, so you have to know what's happening.
The other thing I would say is don't be dramatic and exaggerate. Vulnerability is not being like, "Oh my word, this is the [inaudible 00:03:24] blah, da da da." Like, no, it's still a very controlled and owned understanding of who you are and what you're going through, but it is not this dramatic, theatrical expression of your life and what is going on. Which is a little funny for me to be saying because I probably am more often than not described as a little bit dramatic. But it's not these big dramatic moments, it's like, "Hey, this is what's happening." And what I mean, an example I've used before is one of our kids was struggling with some anxiety, and so I would say, "Hey, we have a kid who's struggling with anxiety and it's a really new challenge for me as a mom." And I wasn't dragging through the gory details of it all. I was not being dramatic about it. I was able to articulate this is something we're managing and this is something we're moving through.
The other thing I try really hard to do is to never tell stories that disparage anyone, but especially someone you love. If I'm going to tell a story that is vulnerable or tell a story where there's kind of an embarrassing punchline, I need to be the butt of the joke. Not my husband, not my kids, not somebody that I love. And I think vulnerability is not taking away someone else's power. My family, my husband, they're like team number one. And I think there can be this gravitational pull towards vulnerability means telling all of the glorious details and secrets of things. And that is not true. There's things I don't share because I know that my husband does not want that shared. Maybe I would share it if I was on the planet all by myself, but that's not being respectful of his boundaries. And there are some of these stories that we're in it together and I need to respect his comfort level with sharing as well. So don't tell stories that disparage or would embarrass or overstep the boundaries of somebody that you love and their own boundaries of vulnerability.
The other thing about vulnerability is only tell the details to the people who can help you. And let me use an example of this. When I was going through the process of realizing that there probably needed to be a leadership transition at Element Three, that my time of sitting in the president's seat was coming to an end, and there were some personal reasons for me that that needed to happen. There were some personal reasons for my now president that that needed to happen. He needed an opportunity to take the next step in his career. And also the business was maturing out of that entrepreneurial first start that I'm exceptional at, and moving into a scale up season of its growth, and I am not as good at that. And so there were personal reasons and business reasons why that was happening.
When I first started bringing into consciousness that that was something that needed to happen, I did not step out into an all company meeting and say, "Hey guys, just so you know, this is something I'm thinking about. What do you think?" That would've startled two thirds of the room. Most of them couldn't do anything about it anyway in that moment, and I likely would've just distracted everyone from the best thing that they could be doing, which is focusing on their job and doing a great job.
That didn't mean I was not being vulnerable to them. That just means, in that moment, that was not an issue that I was dealing with that they could help me with. However, when I was meeting with my closest executive team behind closed doors, I was very vulnerable with them about where I was at, where my head was at, what my fears were, what my concerns were, and that was the place that was right for me to be vulnerable because they could help me walk through it. They actually had the ability to help create change in that place in my life.
And then as we started to get a plan together, as we started to better understand how it was going to take shape, as we shared it with the organization, when we did finally say, "Hey, look, this is what is happening," I walked them all the way back through kind of day one for me and said, "Hey, for the last six months, this is what we've been working on. This is kind of where it started. This is my personal why for why we need to make these changes." And so it wasn't just what was happening and on what timeline and how their worlds were going to change, it was about helping them understand, for me, vulnerably, this is what I need out of the next stage of my life. These are the changes that are required, in my role, for the business to continue to excel.
And so that tiered vulnerability does not mean that when I was talking to my team and not telling them that this was going on, that I was being disingenuous with them. I may have said something to them like, "I am really working through the complexity of what it looks like as we're transitioning from an entrepreneurship-first to a scale-first organization, and I'm working through the complexity of that right now." I might have said something like that. A little bit more general that made them understand, yeah, I'm really thinking hard about this right now.
I don't have the advantage of seeing people's body language when I'm on a podcast, but I hope that makes sense. Where being vulnerable does not mean everybody knows the exact same amount of information at the exact same time, but it does mean that you're willing to share the why of something as you are creating change or maybe making new decisions in an environment.
I also think vulnerability is about sharing with your team, the people that are following you, the people you're leading, what you care about and what you're motivated by. It was uncomfortable for me for a long time when people had asked me how I was doing. I was like, they don't care. I mean, I knew they cared, but it was more like I didn't want to talk about myself. I didn't want to talk about my kids. I didn't want to talk about my trips. I just felt like it was indulgent for me to tell them the stuff I was doing. But I started to understand part of me sharing with them made them feel like I cared enough to bring them into my personal life. And it wasn't about, I don't know, me just spewing stuff. I don't know why it felt like that way to me, but I started to realize people want to know...
Like last year when I had a gap in care, I didn't have a nanny and we were trying to figure out what to do with my youngest daughter; get another nanny, send her to daycare... Oh my word. It was a bit of a mess. And so when people asked me how I was doing, I was very honest. I was like, "We are really struggle busing right now with care for our youngest. And so you're going to see my in-office schedule be a little bit different because I am juggling to the max right now." And me saying that made them realize, hey, when they're going through that, inevitably, if you're going to work for 30 years and have kids in some kind of daycare for 15 years of that, you're going to have a time where it's like, this has totally fallen apart and this surprised me and I don't have a great plan right now, but I will get another one.
That was a time where being vulnerable with everybody about, "this is a bit of a mess," made them realize if they get to that spot, it's not that you don't do your job, it just means that maybe it looks a little harder and the hours of how it comes together is a little bit different. So I think your people want to know what's really going on because they really do care about you.
Some other places where I have been vulnerable, in one-to-ones. So when I'm meeting with people and not just asking them how their job is, but, "How is your life?" And, "What's going on?" And, "How is your marriage or your relationship?" And, "Are you feeling fulfilled in the things that you're pursuing?" Is I've been honest about the fact that my husband and I have been through some really hard times in our marriage, and oftentimes I'll say, "Hey, when we got to about seven years of marriage, our marriage really went through a season where it needed to mature to support where we were going. I know you've been married about five years. How are things going for you?" That's a way that I can vulnerably open up the conversation, sharing a place where we were not always crushing it in our marriage, to maybe make it easier for them to say, "Yeah, we're going through a season..." or, "No, we haven't hit that yet, but now I know that if we do, or when we do that, you've gone through strengthening your marriage and I know that you're a resource for me in that."
So that's an example of how do you use vulnerability to even open up a deeper conversation, share your own experience, and then say, "How are you doing? What's going on there?" Or after a new mom has a baby, I'll often say, "Hey, that was the toughest season for me. Those first three months did not feel like the idyllic pictures that you see of people bathing in rays of sunshine and blissfully nursing their babies. That is a really hard season for me. How are things going for you?" Again, they may say, "Oh my word, I'm actually loving it." That's awesome. But if they don't, they feel open to say, "Okay, that's how I feel too. How did you get through it? And tell me some of the things that you worked through." Again, using vulnerability to start the conversation opens the door wider for somebody else to really share what they're thinking about, what they're feeling.
I talk about how crowdsourcing your network for help is a very selfish motivation for vulnerability for me. I always... Okay, always is a lot, but have one work and one personal thing that I'm working on, an issue that I've brought into my brain that says, when people ask me how I'm doing, I'm going to say, "My kids are doing great. We're in our rookie season of travel volleyball, kind of struggling to adjust to that." Bringing in the consciousness, a personal and a professional thing that you're working on, allows you then when people ask you how you're doing to say, "I'm doing great, but these are two areas that I am really working to get better at," allows people to be like, "Oh, I know somebody who's done that," or, "I solved that once."
And again, my closest business confidants, I will share sometimes a different level of vulnerability or things that are a different level of confidentiality with them, where it's like, "Hey, I'm working on redoing our line of credit and the terms on it. Do you have experience with that?" And they may be like, "Oh yeah, what are you working on right now?" Or, "What are you trying to negotiate?" And it's just a very helpful way of crowdsourcing, using vulnerability to crowdsource network and information.
But being vulnerable is not handing your problems to other people to make them feel like they have to rescue or save you. Being vulnerable is about saying, "I know what I'm in right now. I know I'm going to solve it. I'm in the process of finding resources, or this is where I am, and I still own the problem, but that's what I'm dealing with. How about you?" People will be like, "Oh, this is what I'm dealing with." And I've said this 100 times and I'll say it 100 more: The level of vulnerability that you start a conversation with is where it will stay. It's the ceiling.
If we're sitting beside each other at a conference and I say to you, "Hey, I'm Tiffany Sauder. Great to meet you. I'm from Indianapolis. How are you doing?" They say, "I'm doing great. I'm from Minneapolis. The weather's nice outside. I'm doing good too." There's nowhere for the conversation to go from that, nowhere. Oh, good. Yeah, you'll talk about the weather. Maybe you saw a crazy sports score or something like that. But there will be no human connection at all in that moment.
If I say, "Hey, I'm Tiffany Sauder, great to meet you. From Indianapolis. I had a crazy morning this morning, had to get a last minute babysitter because my kid got sick. It's sometimes hard to balance this momming and working thing as gracefully as I want to every day." That might be where I start the conversation. So they're probably going to say, "Oh, you've got kids? So I." And we'll start talking about our kids, and then I can say, "Yeah, we're also kind of figuring out how to add travel sports into our family schedule. It's been a struggle to really balance the family time that we want and also really support our growing kids and the importance of them being socialized. Have you dealt with that at all?"
And again, it keeps going, and then I get maybe some resources or some things to think about or some ways to integrate my younger kids into my older kids' schedule. And suddenly I have a totally new tool just because I sat by somebody. We all have things in our experiences, people in our network, resources that we can help others with, and it creates such vibrant purpose to life when you feel like you're helping other people.
So vulnerability is an absolute secret weapon in building relationships and deepening your connection to other people, and a total secret weapon in leadership as it relates to humans leading humans and not simply transacting business. So I hope this has been helpful, this export on the way I think about vulnerability in the workplace. And if you have other questions or observations, always reach out. Thanks for listening.
Thank you for joining me on another episode of Scared Confident. Until next time, keep telling fear, "You will not decide what happens in my life. I will." If you want to get the inside scoop, sign up for my newsletter. We decided to make content for you instead of social media algorithms. The link is waiting for you in show notes, or you can head over to tiffanysauder.com. Thanks for listening.
This is an outlet to share the strategies, tips, hacks, and mindsets to help high-achievers who want a lot out of life. We'll drop in your inbox a couple times a month.
May 25, 2023
May 18, 2023
May 11, 2023