Research Paper By Sophia Tuckett
(Confidence Coach, CANADA)
I have always thought of vulnerability as an interesting state of mind but it isn’t something that I have ever thoroughly discussed. Vulnerability is somewhat that is avoided by many but I still felt compelled to write about how it relates to coaching and how much it can serve coaches during their interactions with clients.
According to Dr. Brené Brown, for us to have a real human connection, we have to lean into vulnerability. “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” (1)
Can you remember being taught by your parents how to express your emotions openly? Or even how to be yourself in their presence without judgment? Maybe you were never encouraged as a child to express your emotions. Dr. Lisa Firestone notes that the habit of avoiding vulnerability is a pattern that can start early in childhood. (6)
Throughout this paper, we will explore how coaching from a place of vulnerability enhances the coaching experience. We will also highlight how maintaining a persona leads to disengagement.
Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. — Brené Brown
No Persona Needed
“According to Jung (1989), we all wear masks. We all have a certain persona or way of appearing to others that, however seemingly necessary at times, is a fake. I am not the roles I play, the postures I take towards others. Jung also notes the danger of continually putting on a face is two-fold. First, the activity of face-changing makes it next to impossible to discover, live with, and honor the real self. That is, if people constantly wear masks, they find it difficult, if not impossible, to shed the mask and live in reality, the reality of the self behind the mask. Put another way, human growth and development are obscured through mask-wearing; individuals run away, as it were, from the reality of who they are by identifying with only an aspect of themselves. Second, mask-wearing becomes a habit, and people believe they are the face they put on. This limits human potential. Although it may be impossible (indeed even undesirable) not to wear a mask – as the mask is a defense against intrusion and manipulation-it does not follow that mask-wearing is always appropriate. To identify solely with the masks we wear is to live in illusion, for the masks are labels. Humans, though, are always more than the labels they give themselves.” (2)
Dr. Steven Diamond explains that the persona is an expression of our egos and may not represent our true selves. The trouble begins when we over-identify with our persona and allow it to be constrictive and prevent growth. He notes that the task is to reconcile the true personality and the persona to create a more unified representation of yourself. (3)
Unnecessary barriers are not needed by a coach and neither are restrictive personas. As we set out to support our clients, we need to drop any restrictive aspects of the persona as much as possible. Here are a few questions to ask ourselves:
- Does my persona interfere with my ability to support my client?
- Am I being authentic with my client?
- Does my persona prevent me from showing genuine concern for my client?
The focus behind coaching is forming a connection with the client. Our coaching style and approach should never be “Masked”.
Benefits of Vulnerability
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vulnerability as being “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” Although the dictionary only highlights the negative risk associated with vulnerability, there is also a risk if one never permits themselves to be vulnerable.
Dr. Firestone points out that a critical inner voice based on old pessimistic beliefs may heighten our psychological defenses. Those defenses avoid vulnerability and will hold us back from establishing intimate connections
“There can be no emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy without vulnerability,” said Brown. According to Firestone, our current society is intimacy deficient. Most of us don’t know how to be vulnerable. Firestone states honesty about our needs, our despair, and asking for what we need is important.
Focusing on being hurt or rejected will emotionally distance us from people but vulnerability attracts people to us. Vulnerability is seen as weak but it is the courage to reveal and be ourselves. (6)
Problems with Vulnerability
According to Leon, some people move into a state of anger as a response to feeling sad, anxious, or otherwise vulnerable. It can be an emotional response to criticism, feeling invalidated, or feeling victimized. Leon notes that anger is a reactive feeling that can occur when one unexpectedly finds themselves in a vulnerable state. This can trigger a response to fight the perceived threat. (8)
“The easiest way to explain the multiple protective functions of anger is to describe it as the only negative emotion that’s devoid of any vulnerability,” says Leon. Anger is an emotion that safeguards us from embarrassment, fear, shame, and guilt. When we argue with someone in response to feeling vulnerable, we are fighting ourselves. Our fragile emotional state ends up being suppressed while powerfully pushed back at the outside trigger of the vulnerability. (8)
Leon advises that nothing is accomplished by using anger towards another as a defense. Coming from a place of honesty will help us deal with our feelings directly associated with vulnerability. (9)
For some, vulnerability feels risky. When we are used to holding our emotions back, letting them be seen by others is like giving a speech nude. Our thoughts are focused on what everyone is thinking and what people might say.
” Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement.” Engaging with our vulnerability demonstrates our courage and brings clarity to our purpose. The more we protect ourselves from being vulnerable, the more we fuel our fear and disconnection Brown states notes that “living Wholeheartedly” or an “authentic life” includes practicing vulnerability daily. (5)
Firestone highlights that we are social species. Many of us intend to build close connections but resist using the tool of vulnerability which is essential in building those connections. We close the window that makes these connections possible. Firestone also notes that having a thick skin, staying strong, and self-contained is often praised but vulnerability is seen as week. Vulnerability is often presented as only negative. According to Firestone, vulnerability is about being in harmony with ourselves and exposing our softer sides. (6)
As vulnerability is at the center of real human connection, it is also subjective to the individual. We all come from different walks of life and our perspectives are very diverse. To fully step into vulnerability as a coach and have meaningful experiences with our clients, it starts with a heightened sense of awareness.
Vulnerability applied to coach
“Trust is being vulnerable within a social interaction (McEvily & Tortoriello, 2011).” Evidence shows that trust drives more open communication within partnerships or between entities (Abrams, Cross, Lesser, & Levin, 2003; Mohr & Speckman,1994). Trust is also seen as the cement for communication, it is the foundation to willingly share information and display emotions (Van Lange & Rusbult, 2012). Since clients have to share their honest feelings and thoughts with their coach, trust becomes extremely important for coaching interactions. (Alvey & Barclay, 2007
If clients lack trust, they will feel a sense of discomfort when talking about their desires and dreams and may not reveal what is needed. That will hinder the coaching space. Openness to reflect on oneself and one’s values are what established coaching(see coaching definitions by Grant, Passmore, Cavanagh, & Parker, 2010; Greif,2008). Trust is the foundation for openness, goal attainment, and coaching success. One of the most important aspects of coaching is the establishment of trust. (7)
We are constantly thinking about the vulnerability it takes for clients to reach out to us as strangers and share their lives. What about the Coach? As a coach, we put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to be present and ask powerful questions while staying open and flexible. We too have to step into a place of vulnerability if we want to fully “dance at the moment” with our client. Connecting with the client while coming from a space of love and trust is a demonstration of vulnerability. To truly connect as a coach, we can’t overcompensate or be fake because it won’t be natural to us or the client.
Coaches need to allow themselves to be seen as who they are at that moment. The nervousness and uncertainty that may show up within the space need to be accepted and embraced.
The goal is not to be a “perfect coach.” The coach should remove the thought of perfection to allow the “dance” with the client to come naturally. Coaches should allow themselves to be vulnerable during silent moments in conversation and avoid filling the silence because of their discomfort. It is better to allow the client to fill the silent space and move the conversation in a direction that aligns with their needs. Silence within a regular conversation in our society is not common and there is always someone trying to fill the space so that they can be heard.
There is power in silence and awareness. Becoming comfortable with the silence that shows up within the coaching space can be transformational for the client.
We are all connected and we exist for each other according to Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics. If we as coaches can see ourselves and our client through eyes of love and also embrace our true humanity we will be on our way to join our client in a “flawless dance”
Focusing on self-reflection and practicing vulnerability in our personal lives and as a coach is beneficial and the time spent will improve our comfort in that state.
1: Brené Brown: How Vulnerability Can Make Our Lives Better (2013)
2:Robert P. Craig: The Face We Put On: Carl Jung for Teachers (2010)
3:Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D., Who Are We?: C.G. Jung’s “Split Personality” (2010) (Derived in part from my article titled “Jung’s Angry Genius,” originally published in The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1999, pp. 5-18.)
4:Brown, Brené: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Publisher: Hazelden, Publication Date: 2010
5:Ann Marie Palmisciano: Reflections on Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2018)
6:Lisa Firestone, Ph. D: How Embracing Vulnerability Strengthens Our Relationships
7:Sandra J. SchiemannORCID Icon, Christina Mühlberger, F. David Schoorman &Eva Jonas: Trust me, I am a caring coach: The benefits of establishing trustworthiness during coaching by communicating benevolence (2019)
8:Leon F Seltzer PH.D. Feeling Vulnerable? No Problem—Just Get Angry (2018)
9:Leon F. Seltzer Ph.D. The Power to Be Vulnerable (Part 1 of 3) (2008)