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Transparency vs Vulnerability and Why They Matter

Have you ever shared something, a deep dark secret of yours, with someone and had it backfire? Maybe you shared something from your past and the person you shared it with gossiped about you behind your back? You could feel the judgment and then just as quickly, shame and rage creeped in. Shame on your part for doing that “one” thing you shared that you’re embarrassed about. And rage at the betrayal from the person that broke your confidence and shared it with someone else?

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been burned by this at some point or another.

This can cause us to recoil and learn to no longer be vulnerable with someone. We create a learned behavior of thinking that transparency is vulnerability, but the truth is, it’s not!

They sound very similar, and after years of conditioning they can even feel very familiar. But truthfully, they only have one thing in common — you!!

When you are transparent, you are being open and honest about you and your situation, but you don’t allow others to stand with you in it. While you may not even recognize it, you don’t quite trust the person you are sharing your truth with enough to allow them fully into your life, fearing the exposure might hurt you — they become an observer held at arm’s length and get the “matter of fact” version of the story.

Vulnerability is similar but the key difference is that you trust the other person enough to allow them into your emotions. You’re willing to share things that put you at risk of being hurt, emotionally or otherwise. Think of these as things that could be used against you in some way down the road. You are bearing your full self, emotions included, when you share this instead of just giving the facts of a situation.

Now, this is a very fine line and it can be a little confusing.

So, think of you and your life as a house.

When you are being transparent, you are inviting others to look through your window and get a glimpse of you and your life. Others know about you, and they generally have access to surface level information. They can see what color your couch is, how you decorate, and even what time you eat dinner. The basic gist of your life is revealed, but there’s no depth.

However, when you are vulnerable you are inviting others to come into your home. They get to know the real you and partner with you in a hands-on way to support you as you work through some of the toughest (or best) moments in your life. It is a full knowing of you. Every element of you regarding the situation; how you feel, how you’ve handled it so far, and opening the door for some feedback on how to solve the problem. This is when people get to see your skeletons in your closet, and are invited to clean them out alongside you as a partner and support system without judgment.

Transparency is much easier than vulnerability. It is so easy to be honest (transparent) about things that don’t put us at risk; and it is much more difficult to be vulnerable about things that could mean we get hurt by doing so.

To give you an example, when I got divorced, I quickly realized I was going to be standing on an island trying to navigate the terrifying road ahead on my own, thinking I was being stoic if something didn’t change. The reality is, I needed people. And that wasn’t something I wanted to admit to myself, nor was I willing to jump off into the deep end very easily because of my previous experiences with people who abused that privilege in my life.

This gets into a conversation and discussion about who you hang out with, but that’s for a different day. We’ll just say, if you can’t be transparent and vulnerable with those around you, it’s time to find a new tribe that’s safe to do so. I learned to be smarter the next round and chose my people wisely and carefully!

But for now, let’s keep the focus on you, and me! The only way we can have a full, in depth relationship with people is if I was fully authentic and real with myself. You can only give, or get, what you have for yourself, (have you heard me say that before??!!).

Prior to the divorce, transparency had always come easy to me — I could be open and honest with others about what was going on in my life. It was much easier for me to simply share and tell rather than going the extra step and inviting people into my life.

What was hard for me though, was practicing vulnerability and letting people in in a meaningful way. I started by sharing stuff about me and my past — how I grew up, my family, the several years of marriage I worked through that ultimately ended in a divorce. I also vowed to start sharing my feelings with others (which often isn’t seen as having a place in business).

This taught me a couple of things:

  1. That vulnerability is courageous and contagious.
  2. Transparency is important and can bring people closer together.
  3. Transparency can also be overwhelming and push people away if they’re not ready to handle it. Don’t make meaning about it if they’re not ready, it’s just simply a reflection of where they’re at on their journey.
  4. You can only give, or get, what you have for yourself, so it starts with being real with yourself and your needs first.
  5. It really cultivates loyalty within a team in the workplace, despite the old school opinion that you have to separate personal and business life.

My experiences have gone to show me the major differences between transparency and vulnerability, and how they can radically impact your relationships with those around you! So, the next time you feel motivated to pull away from vulnerability and transparency, I encourage you to lean into it!!! I know it’s uncomfortable at first, but that’s the case with nearly anything you try that’s new. There is a gift on the other side that you simply can’t understand until you’ve experienced it. I now have people in my life who know damn near every detail about my life who will take it to their grave. We have full trust, both ways, and full authenticity and vulnerability. But it started with me first.

One of the questions I ask my clients early on is, “If I weren’t afraid of [X], I would _________? What, regarding your own vulnerability, is holding you back from being truly vulnerable with yourself? If you can face your fears, you are able to genuinely help others do the same!

So dig into yourself first, then give the gift of vulnerability to those around you. You are going to give them permission to do the same and as they learn to trust you, you will then receive their vulnerability in return.