Taken for Granted: Brené Brown on What Vulnerability Isn’t (transcript)
Adam Grant: (00:00)
Hey WorkLifers, it's Adam. Season four is launching this spring, in the meantime, some exciting news. Each season we've done a couple of bonus episodes where I have a discussion or a debate with a thought leader. You asked for more of those, so we've delivered. This is a new series we're calling Taken for Granted. Get it? The jist: More unscripted conversations with fascinating people about rethinking things we've taken for granted.
Adam Grant: (00:33)
This is Taken for Granted, my podcast with the TED Audio Collective. I'm an organizational psychologist. My job is to think again about how we work, lead and live.
Adam Grant: (00:44)
I'm delighted that we're starting this series with someone who never fails to challenge how I think about the world: Brené Brown. As a social work professor, Brené has spent two decades studying vulnerability, empathy, and shame. She's the host of two new podcasts, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead. Her TED Talk is one of the most watched ever, with more than 50 million views. One of the big reasons it was such a sensation is that she models what vulnerability looks like.
Brené Brown: (01:15)
(Clip from talk)
"I'm going in. I'm gonna figure this stuff out. I'm gonna spend a year. I'm gonna understand how vulnerability works and I'm gonna outsmart it ... As you know, it's not gonna turn out well, um."
Adam Grant: (01:28)
I've long been fascinated with the power of vulnerability and impressed with the power of Brené's insights. I'm excited to learn from her about the nuances of vulnerability at work — especially in places where it seems risky.
I will say from one introvert to another, I cannot stand small talk. I love conversations that go-
Brené Brown: (01:48)
Adam Grant: (01:48)
... deep right away, and-
Brené Brown: (01:50)
Adam Grant: (01:50)
... you are the queen of going deep and being vulnerable!
Brené Brown: (01:53)
Adam Grant: (01:53)
So I feel like, I feel like I have extra permission to do that here.
Brené Brown: (01:57)
I'm the queen of vulnerability, and I'm the assistant queen of like - boundaries. So we'll see, let's go, let's go as deep as we can go, and then we'll see.
Adam Grant: (02:05)
So I guess, I guess the place I wanna start Brené, is to say that, you have convinced millions and millions of people that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. It can actually be a source of strength and of connection, and yet so many people struggle to be vulnerable at work and they decide to put on armor instead. And I wonder just for starters, if you could talk a little bit about why people feel special pressure to put armor on at work and what kinds of armor they wear?
Brené Brown: (02:33)
Yeah. So I hope with the work does, and I hope what I do is help people dispel the mythology about vulnerability. I think that's such an important place to start, that there's this idea that vulnerability is weakness. I think most of us were raised with that, that kind of ethos, like,
Brené Brown: (02:52)
'Self-protect, be careful, don't put yourself out there.'.
Brené Brown: (02:55)
I mean, vulnerability is very simply defined as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It's the affect or emotion we feel in times of great uncertainty, risk and - (when) an emotional exposure just means I put myself out there. And so the first thing we have to do is dispel that notion. We are raised to believe it's important to be brave, but then we're taught not to be vulnerable.
Brené Brown: (03:23)
And they really... In my, you know, based on my research and our data, there just is no courage without vulnerability. I tell the story of asking a group of soldiers, a very simple question. "Give me an example of courage in your life or an example of courage that you've observed in someone else that did not require uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure." And I think I was at Fort Bragg and there was just absolute silence until one guy stood up and said "Three tours ma'am." There is no courage without vulnerability.
Brené Brown: (04:01)
Then a week later, I'm doing work with Pete Carroll in the Seattle Seahawks; we're talking about vulnerability [and] I asked the same question to that group of players, "Give me an example of courage on the field or off that doesn't require vulnerability."
And it was so funny to me 'cause they - they had to huddle for a minute and then they kinda came back and said, "There is no courage without vulnerability, not on or off the field. If you're not all in, if you're not putting yourself out there, you just can't be brave." And so I think the job is dispelling the mythology about "vulnerability is weakness."
Brené Brown: (04:38)
At work, I think we armor up more because there's less trust, there's less confidence. And I think we slip into kind of who we think we're supposed to be at work. And we armor up using things like cynicism, perfectionism — needing to be the knower and be right versus the learner and get it right. Um, there are a lot of forms of armor that can sometimes be rewarded at work.
Adam Grant: (05:06)
I think that's so true. I love your observation that, that people will use expertise or performances armor at work. And it, it really, it struck a chord with me on a very deep level, because I, I don't wanna (laughs), I don't wanna get too psychoanalytic-
Brené Brown: (05:24)
Adam Grant: (05:24)
... here, but I, you know, I have this, this defining experience I guess in many ways when I was 12, where all of my close friends dropped me because I wasn't cool enough for them.
Brené Brown: (05:34)
Adam Grant: (05:34)
And I never really realized until, until you started talking about performances armor that my way of coping with, with that experience was to try to be exceptionally good at whatever I did, because then people would respect me or look up to me or like me. And so first it was in sports saying, "Okay, if I can excel in diving, you know, then I'll have, I'll have earned a, you know, a badge or some admiration and maybe I'll be accepted as opposed to rejected.
Adam Grant: (06:00)
And then I got to college and it started to redefine my identity around excellence in school, which, uh, which was something that then got reinforced. And then over time it felt like every single project I took on was, was one where I knew I could excel and that way I was just fortifying my armor more and more.
Adam Grant: (06:19)
And I started to feel like this is a mistake and I'm missing out on opportunities for learning and, uh, for challenging myself and stretching myself. And so I just, I'd love to get your reactions on, on this idea of — for those of us who are, are so accustomed to treating excellence or expertise as, as our armor — how do we let go of that?
Brené Brown: (06:38)
Well, first of all, I have to say that your story of when you were 12, is real trauma. I mean, that's really, that, that's trauma and yes, there are different kinds of trauma and different sizes of the bucket, but — when you're 12 — it's all about belonging. And I think I have the same story, I was, I was 13, not 12, but I have a very similar story, but I just got really good at like smoking cigarettes and being wild, which was probably not the best thing to pick, but, but we all have stories like that and we build our armor around those stories.
And no one talks about the big developmental milestone of mid-life, which can happen I think anywhere between our late '30s and probably mid '50s, which is ... the armor that we put on to protect us when we were children and have less agency and less control over what was happening.
Brené Brown: (07:34)
That armor no longer serves us and it is heavy and what it actually does is prevent us from being seen and prevent us from growing into areas because that armor doesn't grow with us, it stays kind of the same size I think. And so ... ", you know, for me, I kinda switched armor, you know, when I moved from being kinda the loud party girl to, "Okay, this is scary, but I'm gonna try to be the smart kid."
Brené Brown: (08:03)
And that worked and I was rewarded for it. Then I went — I moved solidly into a life of proving, performing, perfecting until I actually physically and emotionally couldn't do it anymore. And so ... I think again, the big challenge of midlife is the armor that we're carry- the armor that we're, you know, that's got us locked in and the weapons that we're carrying that kept us safe at some point, what is okay to let go of because it's no longer serving. And then how do we peel it off, which is the scary part.
You know, I do think that ... as I peeled mine off and, and it, — that was work I did with a therapist — and now, I'm constantly trying new things that I don't know whether gonna be good at or not. And I am failing, you know, on occasion, you know, but feels, but now that I've changed the goal to stretching and learning instead of proving and perfecting ... It feels so different. Does that make sense?
Adam Grant: (09:16)
It does. It, it resonates and I've, I guess I've (laughs), I've gone through a similar shift in saying, look, I wanna be the kind of person who takes on projects that matter-
Brené Brown: (09:24)
Adam Grant: (09:24)
... and where I have the potential to contribute something meaningful. And even if I fail, at least I didn't fail to try.
Brené Brown: (09:32)
That's right. Yes. And I have, let me tell you, Adam, I have, I have taken on a couple of things in the last several years where I have just failed. But I don't regret it. I don't regret it.
Adam Grant: (09:48)
That's such a great place to be, and part of, I guess, part of what I've been wondering is, as I've been applying, applying your work to my own life (laughs), and also talking in class about it quite a bit, uh — so just, just as a little bit of, of backstory, uh, I, every year I have students at the undergrad level apply to my class, and one of the questions is "What's your favorite TED Talk?" Yours is EVERY YEAR, one of the top picks.
Brené Brown: (10:11)
Adam Grant: (10:12)
Uh, I think one of the things that, that jumped out at me after the first few years was, it was mostly women who were naming you as their favorite talk. And, and I'm wondering, I'm sure some of this of course is, you know, men tend to choose male role models. Women tend to choose female — but, it also seems like vulnerability is easier for women to process, and maybe adopt, and it's something men struggle a lot more with. And I wondered if you could talk about what you've found in your research there, and a little bit of the, the psychology of why men struggle so much with vulnerability?
Brené Brown: (10:42)
I have moved from talking about men and women, just to talking about folks who are, you know, trying to meet masculine norms and folks trying to meet feminine norms, just to be more inclusive. But here's the thing ... in terms of masculine norms, the biggest shame trigger is: Do not be perceived as weak.
Brené Brown: (11:02)
So just think about that calculus for a second. I'm asking people to be vulnerable. 99% of them are raised to believe that vulnerability is weakness and they know in their heart that they'll experience shame if they're perceived as weak and that's sort of, it becomes a very big ask for ... people who really value complying with masculine norms.
Brené Brown: (11:27)
In terms of women and, and feminine norms, the number one shame trigger is ... perfection. Do not be perceived as imperfect, do it all, do it well, never let them see you sweat.
Brené Brown: (11:41)
So now I'm saying, "Hey, I want you to be vulnerable about your setbacks and your failures and where you're struggling in your emotions." So really, the biggest barrier to vulnerability is shame, the fear of shame. The fear that I'm gonna put myself out there and I'm gonna find myself experiencing, you know, the definition we use for shame is the incredibly painful experience of believing or feeling that we are unworthy, that we're flawed and unworthy of love and belonging and connection. And so you can see how vulnerability is a really big ask. It's a really big ask.
Adam Grant: (12:25)
You, it's so interesting. Your analysis reminds me of the Bosson and Vandello work on precarious manhood, which it, it basically says, look, you know, the problem with, with most definitions of masculinity or masculine cultures is we have to demonstrate it over and over and over again. And so, no matter how many times you've proven your strength, if you show just one, you know, tiny bit of weakness, then all of a sudden you're no longer a man or you're no longer strong. I don't know. Have you been reading any of that work?
Brené Brown: (12:55)
Well, I, I, I found it by asking some folks on my research team, "What is an alternative to toxic masculinity ...
Adam Grant: (13:01)
Brené Brown: (13:02)
... as a phrase." Because I'm not sure that phrase is helpful.
Adam Grant: (13:07)
I am so with you, hate the phrase. It's, it's always bothered me just at a basic level, because (laughs) it seems to apply that masculinity is inherently toxic, as opposed to what you said, which is there's a, there's a brand or a flavor of masculinity that can be toxic. And I, I guess I came to wondering is that part of the reason why, uh, why you see so many men motivated to armor up at work — because they have to keep proving their strength over and over again?
Brené Brown: (13:33)
This is super interesting. And this is, I'm like, this is me thinking out loud with you. I'm just spit balling right now. Why is vulnerability ... so much ... more difficult to talk about with ... men in suits, in organizations, or hoodies and jeans — because I work in Silicon Valley a lot — right.
Adam Grant: (13:59)
Brené Brown: (14:00)
Why is it more difficult to talk about with them than it is with ... trauma surgeons and firefighters and military and professional athletes? And I guess this hypothesis that's forming in my head right now, which you know — who knows if it's right or not — would be ... where masculinity is — you know — where, where that kind of strength is seen every day on the pitch, or on the football field, or in their jobs, they're not having to prove it so often because it's part of what they do-
Adam Grant: (14:40)
Brené Brown: (14:40)
... that they're more open to those conversations. Do you know what I'm saying?
Adam Grant: (14:44)
That is so fascinating. Right. So if I'm, if I'm a firefighter, everybody knows I'm a bad-ass (laughs). And so if, you know,
Brené Brown: (14:48)
Adam Grant: (14:50)
... if I, if I break down outside of a burning building into tears, I've, I've, I've established already that I'm tough and I can, I can handle extreme crises and difficult situations. Whereas if I'm a software engineer in Silicon Valley, or I'm a trader on Wall Street, I haven't been able to demonstrate my strength in the same way. Is that, is that, is that what you're getting at?
Brené Brown: (15:11)
Yeah, I mean, it's what I'm getting at 'cause I mean, I, it's totally what I get, I'm getting at because I'm thinking to this moment where I'm on an Air Force base talking to a general, doing a lot of work with, and these are like serious, serious ass people. Like these are fighter pilot kinda folks, right? And before we got started, he and I are talking about the work. And I said, "You know, one of the things that's gonna be really interesting is, I wanna talk about care and connection are irreducible needs when we lead, meaning we have to care for and be connected to the people we lead or we can't do it effectively."
Brené Brown: (15:45)
And up until that point, I had had so much pushback from people like, "That's bullshit. I'm not here to like you, I'm here to lead you." And this general turned toward me and said, "From the highest ranks of the Air Force, we believe you cannot lead people that you do not feel affection toward."
Adam Grant: (16:09)
Brené Brown: (16:10)
Which I think takes care and connection a little, another step; affection's, a bigger word, right, in my book. And I said, "huh?" And he goes, "Yeah, that's, that's just common. If you cannot find a way to feel affection for people you lead, then we need to move them out of your direct report line."
Adam Grant: (16:27)
You know, as, as you, as you walk through some of these stories and examples ... what seems to set apart the context where even tough masculine leaders appreciate the importance of vulnerability and affection, um, is they're doing work with, with heavy emotional demands.
Brené Brown: (16:42)
Adam Grant: (16:43)
Whereas I, I mean, I can, I'm sure, you know, and I also know some, some VERY successful people in knowledge work who have managed to pull off a, you know, a pretty extraordinary career without ever really having to take off the mask, uh, and show what they're really feeling. And so is there, is there something also built into the work, um — in addition to the, the fact that you get to prove your strength (laughs) — that you, you can't, you can't hide from the emotions altogether?
Brené Brown: (17:10)
Yeah, and I think the thing that I would ask, I would ask the great contributions that they made without taking off the mask, how much greater could they have been? What changes could they have made, had they had that combination of intellect plus humanity and, you know, reading, Think Again, was a catalyst for me reexamining my bad assumption that we're all hungry for brave leadership.
Adam Grant: (17:42)
Thank you, Brené. I'm honored that you read my book, Think Again, let alone that it's struck a chord.
Brené Brown: (17:48)
It kinda grabbed me by the shoulders and gave m-, gave me a little shake, like a big shake actually. Um, I don't think we can make the mistake of assuming that everyone wants brave leadership-
Adam Grant: (17:59)
Brené Brown: (18:00)
... because brave leadership puts demands on people to also be courageous, to also be self-aware, to also put more importance on getting things right than being right. Um, I don't think brave leadership for the leader or for the people who are being led is for the faint of heart. So I'm not so sure that everyone wants courageous leadership and that's, that's a tough thing. Don't you think?
Adam Grant: (18:32)
Yeah. I, I agree. I think the first thing that jumps to mind is I rea- I read some research earlier this week showing that, when leaders have employees who are courageous and daring, that sometimes they feel like that gives them a pass and they say (laughs), okay, you know, my, my people have got this. And so I don't have to demonstrate the same integrity, which of course is the exact opposite of, of what you would wanna see.
Adam Grant: (18:55)
And it, it goes to something I've been wondering about that your work has really pushed me to think a lot about, which is if, if, if I'm an employee who, who believes in the value of courage and vulnerability, but I have a boss or a leader who doesn't get it (laughs), how do I manage up? I mean, obviously in an ideal world, I would just leave. Uh, but if I don't have that option, is there anything I can do to nudge a leader to take off the armor, uh, to not be so ashamed, to, to be a little bit more real?
Brené Brown: (19:22)
So one thing is I never tell people to leave 'cause I mean, leave if you can, but I just, the re- you know, I think you and I are both careful about that in our, in our work, right. Because the reality is you may have a sick kid and this is your insurance, you know, like, or this is how, you know, definitely wouldn't tell people to leave in this job market right now. So I, we try to give people real tools. Um, no, you can't manage up by teaching your boss this work and asking her to take off the armor. I mean, it just doesn't work like that.
Brené Brown: (19:55)
What I would say is, let's say you're my boss and you're, you're pretty armored, you're not, you're d- you don't do vulnerability. And we just had a big disappointment setback in our team. And, you know, your style is to just move forward. And so what I might say, instead of saying, "You know, look, I think we need to be vulnerable and take the armor off and, you know, really embrace this failure," — that's gonna get you fired or in trouble.
Brené Brown: (20:22)
So what I would say to this person, and depending on how they are, is I would say, "Hey, Adam, I have a question for you. Do you think it could be helpful for us to dig in around what happened as a group? What I'm seeing is I think people are making up different stories about how we ended up in this setback. And I wonder if it'd be helpful if we sat down and just talked through it so we could get on the same page and figure out just as a group, what went wrong so we could embed that in our team and not repeat it?" So I would just practice the work, not try to influence people to do the work. Does that make sense?
Adam Grant: (21:05)
It does. It does. And to me, what's so clever about that approach is (laughs), it takes the, the leader out of the spotlight a little bit, right.
Brené Brown: (21:13)
Adam Grant: (21:14)
So I'm not attacking or criticizing my boss. I'm actually saying, "Hey, you know what? A lot of people are, are... I love your phrase, you know, with the story I'm making up is, and here you're saying-
Brené Brown: (21:22)
Adam Grant: (21:23)
... a lot of people are making up different stories. And so, you know, maybe, maybe we need to actually get them, either set the record straight or learn from something from this experience. And so you're almost inviting the leader to be a problem solver, as opposed to-
Brené Brown: (21:35)
Adam Grant: (21:36)
... calling them the problem.
Brené Brown: (21:38)
That's right. And so it is, we have this list of kinda, we, you know, we call "hard conversations rumbles." And in fact, I have one scheduled today and it literally says in my calendar, "Ad sales rumble, four o'clock."
Adam Grant: (21:50)
Brené Brown: (21:50)
And so what I know, what, what that means in our organization, our culture, is we're expecting a lot of different opinions, we're expecting a lot of competing priorities, Bring up a point of view, bring a lot of curiosity, be prepared to listen more than you talk and be prepared for, for some discomfort 'cause we're gonna stay in this until we understand each other better.
Brené Brown: (22:09)
And so it's, it's just an intention setter for us. We're gonna rumble. And so we have these rumble starters and language that we give people who go through our training where, if I, again, if I'm talking to you and we have different takes on, you know, the perks of vulnerability, I'm just practicing my work with you. So I'm saying, you know, "I hear you, Adam. That's not my experience of how ops showed up in that meeting. Can you walk me through what you saw that, that is leading you to this belief?" There's just language and tools that we can use.
Adam Grant: (22:46)
Yeah. And, uh, you know, I have to ask because (laughs) I, I, this, this term "rumbles," for me is, is such a great reframe of these hard conversations that many of us avoid. And there's a part of me that thinks, okay, you're, you're activating a new mindset. It's, we're going into WWE: "LET'S GET READY TOOO RUMBLE!"
Brené Brown: (23:05)
Adam Grant: (23:05)
Right. (laughs). And I can't wait this, this could be fun! But there's a part of me that also thinks, oh, do you, do you actually, do you ruminate even more going into them thinking, "Oh God, I've gotta rumble, this is gonna be horrible." Does the framing help or hurt?
Brené Brown: (23:19)
It depends. I think it depends on the culture. Right. And it's funny, and this is the age difference maybe because I've got, I think I've probably got a decade on you. And so when I think of rumble, I think of West side story, I, I think musicals, you know-
Adam Grant: (23:30)
Brené Brown: (23:30)
... and so to me, that's where it came from. It came from this idea of ... the, uh, rumble in West side story was part, part argument, part dance — 'cause, you know, it was musical. So in our culture where my number one job is the, as the kinda CEO of this organization that I lead, is to normalize discomfort. We onboard for discomfort. We teach you how to fail and get back up when you are brand new in week one, like we normalize discomfort because I just can't have people working for me who are only doing what they're already good at doing.
Brené Brown: (24:11)
I just, that's not, that's not an effective, like that's not innovative. So for me, it, it just means like, I, I will definitely have people who are two levels, you know, apart from me who, you know, their bosses boss report to me and they will say to me, "Hey Brené, can I rumble with you on the social media strategy? I am not, I'm not down with it yet. I don't get it." I'm like, "Yeah, let's rumble. What's, what's, what do you think?"
Brené Brown: (24:32)
And, as you and I both know, one way to really measure embedded change in, in culture, which is a hard thing to do, right, Is language. Like, language is a big indicator. And so I think you can't just start using the word "rumble" if it's not paired with a deeper culture change.
Adam Grant: (24:55)
I think that makes a lot of sense. And it, it leaves me wondering a little bit, if, if — actually wondering a lot (laughs), I'm just gonna wonder-
Brené Brown: (25:01)
Adam Grant: (25:02)
... it doesn't matter how much I'm wondering.
Brené Brown: (25:04)
I love it.
Adam Grant: (25:04)
I, I love measuring culture change by looking at the vocabulary people use. I guess, I guess maybe this is a little bit of a chicken in the egg, but is it possible that the vocabulary you're introducing is, is creating the change, not just reflecting it?
Brené Brown: (25:18)
Yeah. I think language is practice. It is ... it is the theory of change. It is the practice of change all wrapped up into one thing. And, you know, the greatest compliment that I get, people would come up after a talk and say, "I already knew everything you said, I had no words for it, and I thought it was just me."
Brené Brown: (25:40)
And so that's, that's the goal of the work to give people language, language is power and, and here's the myth. Here's what I tell people: We think that giving language to hard emotions, like shame, our grief, our hard experiences, gives those experiences or those emotions power. But giving language to hard things gives us power.
Adam Grant: (26:13)
Yeah. Yeah. That's-
Brené Brown: (26:16)
Adam Grant: (26:16)
... that's so true when, when we can name an emotion, it, it at least allows us to analyze it or to reflect on it and to control it a little bit, uh, because we realized we have choices about what we call it and when I do something wrong, as you pointed out so many times, uh, I have a choice about whether I'm going to interpret what I'm feeling as shame, "I'm a bad person" — or guilt, "I did a bad thing."
Brené Brown: (26:38)
That's right. You wanna hear something crazy?
Adam Grant: (26:39)
Brené Brown: (26:40)
Um, yes. Yeah. Let me tell you something crazy. So we have communities of facilitators, and when we look at the evaluations from that, that kind of deeply therapeutic work, where people will spend — a facilitator will spend 12 weeks taking people through, you know, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, curriculum in the end in the evaluation, what we see over and over again: Understanding the difference between shame and guilt was the most important part of this work.
Brené Brown: (27:12)
Just understanding that there's a difference between shame, "I am bad" and guilt, "I did something bad," and how we talk to ourselves or how we use shame or guilt to parent or lead has profoundly different outcomes. Right? Just understanding that I can look at my child and say, "you know what? You're a wonderful kid. That was a really stupid choice."
Adam Grant: (27:39)
Brené Brown: (27:40)
... and how different that is from, "You're a stupid kid-"
Adam Grant: (27:43)
Brené Brown: (27:44)
... which changes, who people are, you know.
Adam Grant: (27:46)
Adm Grant: (28:32)
Welcome back to Taken for Granted and my conversation about vulnerability with Brené Brown.
Adam Grant: (28:38)
One of the fears that a lot of people carry around is, people are worried that if they're vulnerable at the wrong time or with the wrong person — especially if they're in a more performance oriented culture at work — uh, that they might not be seen as competent. I'd love to hear your latest thinking on, especially in a virtual world, how do I figure out what appropriate vulnerability is (laughs), and how do I know whether it's safe to be vulnerable?
Brené Brown: (29:02)
So I would say you don't, you'll never succeed in a performative culture, if you don't have some of the things that really are vulnerable, like curiosity. If you pretend like, you know everything in a performative culture, and you're not a learner, that house of cards is gonna collapse at some point. So what I think people are asking is "how much is too much to share about my feelings?"
Brené Brown: (29:27)
And that always leads me to this very simple sentence. Vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability. Are you sharing your, your emotions, your experiences to move [your] work, connection, or relationship forward, or are you working your shit out with somebody? And work is not a place to do that.
Brené Brown: (29:53)
So I'll give you an example that I think is ... you know, in, in fact, when I tell the story, I tell the story a lot when I'm talking. But I think about you sometimes Adam, when I tell the story, 'cause of things that I have read that you've written-
Adam Grant: (30:05)
Brené Brown: (30:05)
Um, no, no, it's, it's good. I think. But it's, it's, this is a nuanced, life is nuanced. Right? And so I was working with a group of newly funded CEOs from Silicon Valley, and after my talk, one of them came up to me and said, "I'm gonna be vulnerable. I'm gonna tell my investors, I'm gonna tell my employees, 'look, we're in over our head. I don't know what I'm doing and we're bleeding money.'"
Adam Grant: (30:30)
Brené Brown: (30:32)
Right. And he said, "I'm just gonna be vulnerable." And I said, "You must have stepped out to go to the bathroom or get a coffee during the part where I said, 'vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability. We always have to interrogate our intention around sharing. And we have to question who we're sharing with and is that the right thing?'" And he's saying, "So what do you think is gonna happen? You don't think I should do it?" I said." I think you'll never get funding again.-
Adam Grant: (30:55)
Brené Brown: (30:55)
-And I think you will unfairly put the people who've probably left great jobs to follow you over here into a terrible position of fear." And he said, "So I don't understand." And I said, "If you are literally in over your head, you don't know what to do next, and you're bleeding money, you should absolutely share that with someone. But the question is, who is the appropriate person to tell?"
Adam Grant: (31:20)
I so appreciate the nuance that you bring to this idea (laughs) of vulnerability to say, look, you know, just, just because vulnerability helps to build trust, doesn't mean you should share everything (laughs) in all situations with all people.
Brené Brown: (31:33)
Adam Grant: (31:33)
And I think that's such a common misconception about the idea... I guess it, it comes up a lot in discussions about authenticity too, that people think that, that, you know, okay, I'm trying to be authentic, and that means I don't need to have a filter? Or, you know, I can defend my actions by saying "I was just being myself." I'm like, "Well, you were just being a jerk!" (Laughs). That's, that's not okay.
Brené Brown: (31:55)
Yes, that, that's exactly right. Look, I know some of the most vulnerable and authentic leaders I've ever had the pleasure of working with — truly authentic, truly vulnerable, — personally disclose very little. And some of the leaders that I work with [who] disclose everything are the least authentic and vulnerable people I've been around.
Adam Grant: (32:17)
Wait. Okay. So this, this is totally fascinating. Hold on. Are you saying that I don't-
Brené Brown: (32:20)
Adam Grant: (32:21)
... I, I, I can, no, no. I, I, I actually love this because-
Brené Brown: (32:24)
Adam Grant: (32:24)
... I have been criticized on this before, and I think you just, you just gave me a new way of thinking about this, which is, you're saying I can be vulnerable without disclosing a ton about my emotions or my life.
Brené Brown: (32:36)
Adam Grant: (32:37)
Brené Brown: (32:38)
Adam Grant: (32:38)
I, I think this is what I've been trying to do. I'll just give you the back, the background in case it's helpful. I have-
Brené Brown: (32:43)
Adam Grant: (32:43)
... gotten feedback from a bunch of people I work with that when, you know, when there's something difficult going on in my life, I don't share much about it. And, my fear has been that when, you know, when people know that there's something difficult going on in my life, and then I don't open up about it, they're gonna think that I'm, you know, I'm not being honest or authentic with them, or I'm lacking vulnerability. And you're saying there, there are ways that I can maintain my, I guess, my degree of privacy that I, I-
Brené Brown: (33:09)
Adam Grant: (33:09)
... might opt for naturally and still be vulnerable. So I'm, I'm excited about this.
Brené Brown: (33:13)
Adam Grant: (33:13)
Tell me more.
Brené Brown: (33:14)
This is what vulnerability can look like: "Hey, I'm, I'm really struggling right now. I've got some stuff going on with my mom and it's hard. And I wanted y'all to know, and I want you to know what support looks like for me is, I'll check in with you if I need something from you. And I may take some time off, but I wanna know for me support looks like being able to share this with you and being able to bring it up with you when it's helpful for me, but not having to field a lot of questions for it. So I, I appreciate being able to tell you, I appreciate that we all will need different things when we have hard things going on in our lives, this is what I need right now."
Adam Grant: (33:51)
That is incredibly empowering.
Brené Brown: (33:53)
Because what, so let me tell you what people are actually worried about, Adam; when you've got someone who compartmentalizes in segments and, and when they know something really difficult is going on — they've got, they've got a parent in chemotherapy or they've got, you know, like something's really hard is going on — they're concerned about you, for sure, but what they're also concerned about is "Brené does not give me permission to be human. I am not safe here unless I too compartmentalize and bring/do not bring my whole self here."
Brené Brown: (34:25)
And what you're doing when you say what I just said, which is "I understand we all have different things and different needs. And I love being a part of team, a team that can respect that. I do trust you and want you to know that these hard things are going on, and for me, support looks like this right now."
Adam Grant: (34:41)
That's awesome. It's-
Brené Brown: (34:43)
Does that make sense?
Adam Grant: (34:45)
It does. It's a different interpretation than I admit, which is, you know, when, when I've got (laughs), the first or second time, I was like, "Oh, okay. You know, this is somebody who, who wants, you know, who just expects me to open up more than I do and we have different preferences. That's okay." And then as it, it happened a few more times, I felt like, "Okay, maybe what's going on is people are worried that they're not as close to me as they thought they were, because if they were-
Brené Brown: (35:08)
Adam Grant: (35:09)
... I would have shared this." And you're saying, yes, maybe that, but also that they're worried that if they wanna share something with me, that I'm not gonna be receptive to it because I don't do it in return.
Brené Brown: (35:20)
If you're my boss and you're the person that really is very private and doesn't like to disclose, and ... and I know something's going on ... it creates eggshells for me because you're not being explicit about what you want or don't want, it's just off limits.
Adam Grant: (35:37)
Brené Brown: (35:37)
And if you said that to me, I would say, "Man, Adam, really appreciate you normalizing that we have lives outside of work and I really appreciate you normalizing that we all need different things when we're in a hard time. And what I really appreciate is, you asking us — you trusting us enough — to share that you're having a hard time and ask for what you need, which is not to talk about it, unless you bring it up." That's safety, that's psychological safety.
Adam Grant: (36:05)
It's such a powerful conversation that I clearly need to have with a bunch of people (laughs) having to add to my list now. But it also, it also makes me think that this, it might be helpful to clarify to people what closeness to means to me, right?
Brené Brown: (36:19)
Adam Grant: (36:19)
You know, when I, when I think about closeness, it's less about disclosing, you know, my deepest emotions or what's going on in my personal life. It's more about, number one, if I've made time for you, that means you matter to me. Full stop.
Brené Brown: (36:31)
Adam Grant: (36:32)
And number two, and maybe more importantly, I do not, I do not see a connection between the frequency of communication and the depth of a friendship or a collaboration. And I feel like the people I'm closest to, I sometimes go a year or more without talking to them and we can just pick right up where we left off. And I know that if I ever needed them, they would be there for me and vice versa. And I don't think I've actually let anyone know that.
Brené Brown: (36:58)
God, it's huge. It's so important. And that, that, you know what that is? That's authenticity. That's authenticity, because let me tell you something, you sitting down with this folks that are concerned because you're not sharing enough and, and pushing yourself to share with them is actually not authenticity. That's assessing and acclimating to what you think people need. It's not being you. That's why this sentence, what, you know, "What does support look like for me? What does support look like for you?" and that we can build a team that we can have different needs because we see each other and respect each other. That's authenticity. It's nothing more, nothing less.
Adam Grant: (37:34)
So if, if I can quote you to you, I think-
Brené Brown: (37:37)
Adam Grant: (37:37)
Brené Brown: (37:39)
No. Hell, no.
Adam Grant: (37:40)
I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. No, you, you said something really profound about this. You've said that, I, I think, tell me, tell me if I'm, if I misapplying it here, but I think that-
Brené Brown: (37:48)
Adam Grant: (37:49)
... ano- another way of saying what you just said in your words is that if I were basically just sharing, because people expected me to share, then I'm fitting in as opposed to belonging.
Brené Brown: (37:59)
That's right. That's right. That's right. And, and there is room for all of us. Like I have pushed and pushed and pushed people to be more like, at my level of sharing, which is kind of somewhere in the middle. Like I have my own personal line: I'll share what's vulnerable, but I never share what's intimate. I'm really clear on all that. I don't — my kids are not in my posts. I'm not, you know, I just, I'm a public person, but that doesn't mean that I've forfeited everything in my life.
Brené Brown: (38:26)
And so what true belonging is, if you've got a team of seven people that have seven different ways of showing up and different levels of comfort with sharing (and) that all of them feel like they have a space there, because what's not honored is a way of being; what's honored is actually authenticity.
Brené Brown: (38:49)
You know, and that's what we're looking for. But let me tell you, that's a shit ton of work. And it's more work than saying authenticity is crying 3.5-
Adam Grant: (38:56)
Brené Brown: (38:57)
... which I've had, I've really had leaders come up to me-
Adam Grant: (38:59)
Brené Brown: (38:59)
... and literally say, "How many times do I have to cry in front of them to like really be considered vulnerable?" And I said-
Adam Grant: (39:06)
Brené Brown: (39:06)
... yeah, like "You don't get it. There's no hack here. There's no hard wiring here. It's about understanding and seeing people."
Adam Grant: (39:14)
Love that. Well, thank you. I've learned so much from your work. It's been, you know, it's been, eye-opening, it's been, at various points, uplifting and also a little bit arresting in the best ways. And it's been, just, a real treat and delight to have you on WorkLife.
Brené Brown: (39:31)
God, thank you so much. I have to say, this is just one of my favorite conversations ever. So thank you for inviting me.
Adam Grant: (39:43)
If you're still hungry for more from Brené and me, we just had another conversation for her podcast, Dare to Lead. It's on Spotify, Brené with Adam Grant on the power of knowing when you don't know.
Adam Grant: (39:59)
Taken for Granted is a member of the TED Audio Collective. The show is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Transmitter Media. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O'Donnell, JoAnn DeLuna, Grace Rubenstein, Michelle Quint, Bambam Cheng, and Anna Phelan. This episode was produced by Constanza Gallardo and Jessica Glazer. Our show is mixed by Rick Quan, original music by Hansdale Hsu and Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton Brown.