Vulnerability vs. Invulnerability

This post might seem to apply more to men than to women, but I’m hoping it offers ideas and insights of value to everyone.

The basic idea is simple: although you probably don’t think so, having access to feelings of both vulnerability and invulnerability can help you get more of what you want.

Here’s why:

Vulnerability

Showing other people your vulnerable side has many advantages for productivity and career success. You can do this by revealing when you’re somewhat unsure or a little needy of emotional or project support. One good way is to speak more in questions rather than statements. You can also express a lot more gratitude, and stay quieter than you normally would in group discussions.

This level of vulnerability encourages people to think of you as more approachable, more human, possibly more interesting, and certainly more in need of help from time to time. Recognition of your vulnerability paves the way for other people not only to offer help – whether or not you need it – but to more readily agree to your requests for help when you actually do.

In addition, vulnerable people tend to be spared the harsh comments, unwarranted criticisms, and mean-spirited barbs that regularly emanate from certain people. Translation: people will treat you nicer.

Of course, vulnerable people may sometimes be judged as less competent, less worthy of responsibility, or even less valuable (on the job, only) than others. But by keeping your vulnerability within limits of your own choosing, you can often sidestep much of the negativity that attaches to people deemed too vulnerable.

Invulnerability

No one is totally invulnerable, of course, but there are advantages to cultivating an image of quasi-invulnerability in some situations, particularly those related to careers and personal success. You can do this by cultivating an appearance of certainty, following through on your projects and ideas whether or not others come with you, and freely expressing your opinions and ideas in group discussions. One good way is to speak more in statements rather than questions.

This level of invulnerability gets you into the group that is often considered first for difficult assignments and opportunities. These are the same kinds of assignments and opportunities that regularly yield extraordinary rewards and personal or career-related satisfaction to those who can accomplish them.

In addition, people who give off the “invulnerable” vibe are frequently judged to be more competent than others, and are therefore treated with higher levels of respect. The result: they may be asked to take on responsibility and authority sooner and more often than those perceived to be mere mortals. Translation: accelerated career advancement.

Of course, people who seem more or less invulnerable to others may sometimes be thought of in negative ways, perhaps as pompous or braggarts. These are the kinds of labels you should work hard to avoid by limiting your invulnerability to simple competence and expertise. If you let such negative labels attach to you, they will likely hinder your career trajectory and prevent you from bonding well with the people around you.

Balancing the Two

Since both vulnerability and invulnerability can each have positive and negative impacts on your personal life and your career, the preferred approach is to steer a careful course between the two.

For example, it’s helpful to carefully limit your vulnerability to delicate matters like personal relationships and controversial or difficult decisions. These are areas where treading softly is helpful and important.

On the other hand, in matters of career-related objective knowledge and project or task know-how, as well as relatively straightforward or routine career-related procedures and activities, it’s often beneficial to appear closer to the invulnerable side of the spectrum – at least in terms of being certain about what to do next and how best to do it.

Differences for Men and Women

The implications of these ideas for individual men and women overlap, but can be significantly different.

For men, it’s helpful to shear away from the cultural imperative that you must be as invulnerable as possible. Open up to more vulnerable possibilities. For example:

  • It’s OK to ask directions.
  • It’s acceptable, even desirable, to care about other people.
  • It’s appropriate to admit you need more information and guidance in certain situations or fields of knowledge – no one can be an expert in everything.
  • It’s totally fine to cry or express strong emotion when the situation calls for it.

For women, it’s helpful to step up and display equal or even superior competence. For example:

  • It’s OK to know exactly what to do, and to give direction to the people around you.
  • It’s appropriate to have the answers when others may not be sure of even the right questions.
  • It’s totally fine to restrain your emotions and do the rational, right thing when the going gets tough and others are breaking down or feeling weak.

Experiment with developing and displaying a little extra vulnerability and invulnerability, each at the right time and in the right situation, and you’ll find becoming known for these attributes can help you get significantly more of what you want.

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