How you can build trustworthy friendships in life and work by being vulnerable

Photo by Alex Smith on Unsplash

Mental health and kindness

Perhaps not surprising during a pandemic, mental health and emotional well-being were major themes at the Olympics. Norway’s Lotte Miller was seen consoling Belgian Claire Michel, who was the final athlete to cross the finish line in the women’s triathlon. Gianmarco Tamberi, of Italy, embraced his high jump competitor, Mutaz Barshim, of Qatar after he suggested they share the gold instead of breaking a tie.

It’s Okay (by Nightbirde)

Jane Marczewski (aka Nightbirde) singing her original song, “It’s OK”

From the athletic to the business world

I’ve worked with athletes who’ve won international competitions. They told me as athletes they applied the same skills in business like excellence, discipline, persistence, hard work, and focus. What I didn’t expect to hear was how important it was to demonstrate vulnerability in order to connect with others especially their team. Olympians have a lot to teach us the way they demonstrated vulnerability and supported each other on and off camera. It’s refreshing to learn that teammates and competitors become great friends on and off the field during their careers. I think vulnerability loops have a lot to do with it.

Navy SEALS: To lead, be vulnerable

One quality I didn’t expect to hear as an essential part of leadership is the need to be vulnerable.

Question Set A:

Question Set B:

It’s hard knowing who to trust

Both sets get a bit personal. But Set B questions will make you more uncomfortable and apprehensive. Researchers found that Set B increases heart rate. You might blush, hesitate and possibly laugh out loud due to nervous energy. If you and a stranger engage with Set B questions, you’ll feel 24% closer than Set A. This matters because when people leave their comfort zone, they are more vulnerable and often express it. The conversations touch on weakness, confession, and authenticity. Think back to a time when you felt relief after connecting with someone after admitting a weakness. They listened with empathy and shared their own weakness with you. You might also recall a time when you were vulnerable with someone who didn’t reciprocate and you felt hurt and betrayed. It’s hard knowing who to trust.

Vulnerability loops: To build trust, be vulnerable

Why do athletes and Navy SEALS develop such deep bonds of friendship and trust for one another? A Harvard professor, Jeff Polzer, who researches “insignificant social interactions”, says that when you demonstrate vulnerability, it shows others you have weaknesses and that maybe, you could use some help.

Vulnerability loops follow the same steps
A vulnerability loop occurs when the sender shares a weakness and the receiver responds by sharing their own

Athletes often go through hell and back

The Canadian competitive swimmer, Penny Oleksiak, is Canada’s most decorated Olympian from competing in the Summer Olympics. She credits winning her Olympic medals in Rio and Tokyo to her fellow Canadian female swimmers and friends. They took her under their wing, mentored and trained with her in her early teens. Oleksiak said:

From left to right, Canada’s Kylie Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Margaret MacNeil & Penny Oleksiak win 4 x 100m relay bronze | Tokyo 2020 (Source here)

Not doing good. Now what?

Everyone and especially athletes go through times when they’re “not doing good” and failing at something. That’s when youAlways look for the Helpers as Fred Rogers says was the advice his mother always gave him.

The hardest moments are handled with your best friends

The day the team won an Olympic gold medal against Sweeden, Labbé said in an interview she battled with nerves throughout the tournament:

Friends and teams who are vulnerable win better. Canada Soccer unveils Women’s National Team roster for Tokyo Olympic Games (Source here)

Experiencing all the joys, all lows in sports with best friends

By all accounts, the entire Canadian women’s national soccer team echoes Labbé’s views on how the teammates are best friends. Veteran soccer player, Christine Sinclair, is an introvert and known for her humble leadership. Many consider her to be the architect for the success of the Canadian women’s soccer team. Sinclair is the all-time leading goal scorer for men’s and woman’s international soccer and was the first woman inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame. On winning gold, she said:

When you’re fighting with your own head

One of the biggest events of the Tokyo Olympic Games was when American gymnast, Simon Biles, withdrew from both the individual and the women’s final team competitions. She cited mental health, not an injury as the reason. Biles is the most-decorated gymnast in World Championships history with 25 medals, 19 of which are gold. She said:

Even the best athletes need help dealing with their mental health. Source: by Agência Brasil Fotografias — EUA levam ouro na ginástica artística feminina; Brasil fica em 8º lugar, CC BY 2.0

Make it safe for teams to talk

Daniel Coyle quotes Dave Cooper in The Culture Code about the importance of creating safe spaces for Navy SEAL teams to be vulnerable. The team is required to complete what’s called an After-Action-Review (AAR) immediately following every mission. The AAR is a truth-telling session that is led by the team, not commanders. There is no agenda and the only goal is:

Navy Seal teams practice vulnerability loops through AARs (After-Action-Reviews)

Your team doesn’t have to be perfect and neither do you.

Navy SEALS training is interwoven into vulnerability loops. They recognize teams are imperfect. They become better together when vulnerability meets interconnection. For example, when a team member is weak and falters, those nearest to him or her sense it and adjust their effort to compensate for the loss until things get steady. If that means members sacrifice and take on more pain for the group, they do it. This is done until the group regains balance. This cooperative approach where vulnerability and interconnectedness mix is one reason why teams succeed even when the odds are stacked against them. Individuals put the group’s goals above their own.



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Flavian DeLima

Flavian DeLima

Marketer. Strategist. Consultant. Collaborator. Tinker on the edges…fandoms, creators, entertainment, community, collab & authenticity. Play @collab4purpose