Is it okay to be vulnerable in business?

A favorite client of mine wrote the other day asking about my thoughts on showing vulnerability in business. She’d been reading a ebook by Lissa Rankin called, “How to Change the World.” In it, Rankin says,

“Speak your truth. The more you allow yourself to be vulnerable, the more you’ll discover the voice of your truth, raring to be heard. Once you get over the fear of rejection that accompanies being vulnerable, you’ll find you have much more to say—and you’ll find a whole boatload of people who are dying to listen.”

I very much agree with this.

But how far does it go?

At the same time, my client and I have had exchanges over the years about how far to go — do we air our dirty laundry in public? Are we being disingenuous if we leave things out? Are there entrepreneurs out there who just go too far and give too much information?

My client also asked a great question, “If I’m trying to decide what level of vulnerability I’m going to show my audience, does that defeat the purpose of it?”

Be real

I think it’s incredibly important to be real — that’s the only way we find our true voice, especially in writing and speaking.

It’s okay to be private too

And, as a sensitive person, it doesn’t work for me to share deeply personal information in public in the name of being authentic and transparent. I need and want to maintain a degree of privacy and personal space. On the other hand, I want you to know me, so you know what you get when you work with me. I agree with Lissa Rankin that the way to find your audience is by speaking your truth and being visible and public about what matters to you.

Where does this leave us?

So is it a question of degree?

Or timing?

Does it mean ALL the truth?

My solution

My solution is to write raw, first. When I’m ready to share something, I core-dump the messy truth with the aim of finding and sharing a message of hope within it. It’s a cathartic process often — I learn just as much through the writing of my thoughts as (I hope) you do from my sharing of them.

I also think it’s a question of timing. If I share the despair and pain I’m in with my audience while I’m going through it, it’s like watching a train wreck. If I share it with you after the fact, and what I’ve gained from my lessons and experiences, we all benefit.

Sometimes I’m able to hold the broader perspective while I’m going through something. If that’s true, I’ll share it at the time it’s happening. If not, I’ll wait (someday you’ll see some work from me around the early days of parenting as an HSP, but not yet. *Grin*)

Bottom line

The bottom line is:

  1. I don’t go into detail about personal things that are no one’s business but my own — and I don’t think that means I’m not being real, rather being private, and,
  2. I don’t go into detail about vulnerable things when I’m in the middle of it, unless I feel like I can share it in a way that benefits me and others.

This is the path I’ve found that works for me so far.

Your turn

What do you think? What works for you in this area? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.




Coming Attractions


~> October 4th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough Group. SOLD OUT.

~> October 25th. Register by October 25th for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts October 29th). Looking to feel passionate again about your writing? You must write to get there:


What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.*

~> Sacred writing time. My schedule is in flux right now but I’m writing regularly nonetheless.

~> Reading: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows with my son — so close to finishing now! I think we’re going to read Eragon next. Or maybe Narnia, or The Belgariad. I can’t wait. I’m deeply enthralled by Homeland, finally saw the finale of Weeds (weird), and I’m so happy Castle is back on the air. *Grin*


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  1. Jenna, this provides some really beautiful clarity when I hear so many people encouraging me to be vulnerable in my writing or as a visionary entrepreneur. It’s daunting and even moreso as an HSP. Thank you for helping us think this through! Mary

  2. Terrific post, Jenna. I’m very much in agreement with you. It’s possible to be vulnerable and authentic, *and* keep some things private when that’s what feels right. Both/and! Thanks so much for writing this. :)

  3. Being vulnerable and being strong and firm is a fine line to walk. It’s an incredible balancing act, and I agree with your bottom line that “detail about personal things that are no one’s business but my own — and I don’t think that means I’m not being real, rather being private.” As a writer, I valued privacy, but fiction once published, posted, or uploaded is public, and I have to navigate between two worlds, one private and one public. Thanks for a very insightful and thoughtful post.

  4. I have found out the hard way to not reveal too much, when I had a client wanting to use me as a personal counselor and wanting me to be at her beck and call – and I am not even in the counseling business! I think you need to follow your client’s lead as to how much of yourself that you put out there. I suppose it also depends on what kind of business you are in. Word travels fast in a small town, for good or evil!

  5. Jenna, this just showed up in my inbox today.

    Technology, A New Education Model, and Why I Turned Down a Big Gift from my Dad >>
    By Forest Linden

    What a perfect example of sharing something personal, and it being relevant to his business. Forest is clearly very centered to be able to share this, and so soon after it happened. I was touched and inspired. Mary

  6. As a rule of thumb I like and use in my HSP Coaching practice is “We’re all Men (Yang) at work” and I think Masculine Yang Energy is to “Give, Protect and Cherish” and to “Compete, Conquer and Control,” and Feminine Energy (Yin) is “Patient, Passive and Vulnerable” as well as being “Receptive, Respecting (of those who give protect and cherish them) and Available to Receive.” That, in my opinion, is Feminine Energy. The analogy I use is “You’ve never seen an egg go after a sperm, have you?” However, in the work environment, as I said “We’re all Men at work” and so to be “vulnerable” may not be appropriate, most of the time. In fact if you’re treated as a “vulnerable female” at work it may be lawsuit time. Now, to be open to ideas, yes, but to be vulnerable, probably usually not.

    Ironically, as you may be aware, “Men create from their feminine energy and women create off their masculine energy.” So, singer, song writer men are in their feminine and singer songwriter women are working off their masculine energy. If you’re old enough, and a good example would be that Carol King is certainly more masculine than James Taylor… and Joan Baez more masculine that Bob Dylan, Cher is certainly now (and was) probably more masculine than Sonny, and Yoko more “masculine” than John, Jennifer Lopez more masculine than Marc Anthony, and I’d say both Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston are probably more masculine energy, and less vulnerable, than Brad Pitt (even though they look feminine and he can look masculine) and then there’s Hillary Clinton who , I dare say, is more masculine than Bill, and most all “actresses” are more masculine than “actors” even though they may play the role of the vulnerable feminine, or masculine manly man, if you know what I mean? Well, that was fun, thank you for bringing up the topic Jenna, even if I got “off topic” maybe a little bit. I find with my coaching of HSPs, most all in my audiences and in my HSP coaching practice that most all of my HSP women are very much in touch with their masculine energy and it goes without saying that HSP men are in touch with their feminine and feeling side, because I find most all HSPs are very creative which brings me the quote form my website by Pearl S. Buck which seems to resonate with HSPs of both genders:

    Pearl S. Buck, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and of the Nobel Prize in Literature , once said about highly sensitive people:

    “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
    A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
    To him…
    a touch is a blow,
    a sound is a noise,
    a misfortune is a tragedy,
    a joy is an ecstasy,
    a friend is a lover,
    a lover is a god,
    and failure is death.
    Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” – Pearl S. Buck

    Jim Hallowes
    Founder, Highly Sensitive People® Certified WANT® Trainer and Coach
    “Educators of Effective Communication Strategies”
    Certified Transactional Analysis Practitioner

  7. Sorry about the typos!! Jim

  8. Jenna, thank you for this wonderful piece. It really helps me to reflect on and reconsider my boundaries, which is always such a tricky subject for me.

  9. How is it that you read my mind lately? First this, then the one about feeling that you don’t fit.

    As a mom to an 8 and 2 y.o. who has suffered a chronic illness for the past few years, I am just now getting back out there as member of a bunch of professional groups.

    I’ve often suffered from ‘verbal diarrhea’ when I’ve been overworked and/or strung-out from all the stimuli around me; and it’s gotten me into trouble sometimes – even lost me a couple jobs – because I let my personal beliefs and principles (and negative reaction to those who didn’t agree) get in the way of the need to tone it down.

    Now when I am vulnerable and open, and my husband worries that I’m on that path again, I tell him: “Honey, now when I am on that path, it’s a conscious choice. I’ve decided that the individual or situation is a safe one in which to reveal more of my detailed self.”

    Thanks Jenna as always for putting this tension so nicely into words. It’s always good to be reminded to consider the difference between when vulnerability is appropriate, and when it isn’t.

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