There are a lot of posts already written on the importance of vulnerability in leadership - the value it brings, and the camaraderie and support it fosters. But how safe is it to express vulnerability in conversations with prospective or existing clients?
As a client, I want to feel reassured that my selected vendor has the confidence and capability to deliver the services I am paying for. Hearing about internal issues in relation to personnel, finance or operations would most likely unsettle me. Or would it?
Neil O’Brien, author of ‘Time to Fly’ commented on the standard form of Irish business greeting at an event last year. “How’s things? Are you busy?” We’ve all most likely asked and answered this question too many times to count. The answer is usually “Oh yes, we’re really busy. And you?”
What if you’re not busy? What if you haven’t had a sale in weeks? What if you just lost a long-standing client or a high stakes pitch? What if cash flow is becoming a concern? Do you maintain a confident veneer of success? Or do you choose to be vulnerable? Rather than fake it till we make it, do we have the courage to admit “No, we’re not busy actually.”?
If we apply Brene Brown’s formula for developing stronger relationships, the key is vulnerability. There is most likely a fear that our clients will start to wonder why we aren’t busy, if there’s something wrong with our service or offer. But maybe an expression of vulnerability in a business context will put our relationship with our clients on a more honest and sincere footing. Rather than dampening a conversation, it can actually bring it to new ground. Not being busy often results in a shift in perspective or provides an opportunity for self-reflection and interesting insights which leads to positive change. It also provides a more interesting answer to the question, “Are you busy?”
Many companies experience quiet periods in their life cycle – it’s not a unique problem. Imagine your client is experiencing a similar issue. How refreshing for them to be able to respond truthfully with “Yes, we’re finding it quiet too”. The shared experience transitions you from a supplier to a colleague in business with similar challenges.
Imagine we all operated from a position of transparency, choosing vulnerability over high-status play.
- “I’m not sure we have the resources/skills to take on that part of the project.”
- “I can’t take calls tomorrow, I’m out of the office with my kids.”
- “No, unfortunately, we don’t have experience or expertise in that area.”
- “Oh, I can’t take credit for that. I have to hand it to…”
- “I don’t know the answer to that one. I’ll need to consult with..”
Vulnerability tends to be seen as a position of weakness. Yet it requires courage. Placing your ego to one side opens the door for a different kind of conversation. One that’s real, transparent and unpretentious. So next time, when someone asks if you’re busy, follow Neil O’Brien’s advice and give the following response, “No, I’m not busy. Thank God.”
See where it leads.