Entrepreneur, speaker, life-long learner

Power in Vulnerability

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.