I’ve been listening to Brené Brown‘s “Power of Vulnerability” for the last few days. One of the things she talks about is “wearing armor” or suiting up everyday to keep everyone (and I mean everyone) at arm’s length. I loved it when she compares “suiting up with armor” to putting on Spanx. I don’t know if you have ever put on Spanx but I’ve attempted it once…or maybe twice and it is an ordeal. Trust me, it was worse than trying to zip up my Sassoon jeans while lying on a bed gasping for air when I was 15. So this analogy really hits home.
It also reminds me of putting on my New York attitude when I was in the big Apple earlier this summer. You put your sunglasses on, take off your smile and stomp down the street. That cold “leave me the hell alone” look so that people don’t ask for money and you can stay on your trajectory on the sidewalk with no interruptions or course corrections from anyone. It’s exhausting. The antidote is vulnerability. So how do you lose the armor?
Here are some tips:
1. Moment. Instead of shutting everything out, you need to be present in the moment. Author Olivia Fox Cabane recommends feeling your toes. Feeling your toes brings you awareness of the moment. I remember breaking my arm when I was thirteen. I remember every moment, smell, sight and taste of the experience of the emergency room. When you are really in touch with your body, you are really in the moment. Don’t bother to break your arm, just stay in touch with your toes and you will be in the moment.
2. Eyes. Notice the color of people’s eyes. When you are listening to your child, your client or your spouse, look for the little flecks of color in their eyes. But as Drake Baer wrote in Fast Company, “The Goldilocks of eye contact comes in two flavors: If you’re in a one-on-one setting, hold eye contact for 7 to 10 seconds; while if you’re in a group, shorten that to 3 to 5 seconds.” If you aren’t making eye contact you come across (intentionally or not) as untrustworthy. So don’t give them an eye exam. and when walking the streets of Manhattan, take off the shades and connect. Look into their eyes.
3. Perspective. When listening to your partner or boss, try and focus on their perspective. This is not the time to chime in with how you got stuck in traffic for two hours and “please feel sorry for me” rebuttal. Stay focused on their “story” regardless if you feel like they are viewing from a skewed perspective. Feel their perspective and embrace it. This is not the time to fight it. Regardless of the “lens” you are looking through it’s not their “lens”. As David Rock says, no two brains are alike, and whatever their viewpoint is, it is what it is. Accept the other person’s perspective.
4. Nix sympathy. Don’t respond with sympathy. I initially found this difficult to comprehend. As Brené says in her CD, when you empathize you get into the hole with your friend and help them back out, when you sympathize, you stand at the edge of the hole, stare down at your friend and say you are sorry they are in the hole. Essentially, sympathizing let’s you raise your self above the person and let them wallow in the suffering. I think there is a place for sympathy (i.e. funerals) but if you want to really help your friend that just got dumped by her boyfriend, it’s not the time for sympathy.
5. Respond. Instead of sympathy, respond with empathy. The easiest way to do this is to label the other person’s feelings. “I can see you are upset that your boyfriend dumped you”. “You are obviously frustrated that you had to cancel the meeting”. Labeling works from a brain perspective in that it clarifies what you heard and lets them know whether or not you got it right. They might respond, “I’m not frustrated; I’m angry”. But it makes sure you are on the same page. You have identified with their perspective and you’ve been open enough to “label” the feeling. Respond to the feeling with empathy.
Being more present and vulnerable is work. It’s not easy. Take one step at a time. You will get there. Eventually, you will be able to leave your armor at home.
What are you guarding against?