The desire to invite more shared vulnerability within a relationship or group usually arises from a longing to meet needs for intimacy, mutuality, being seen and heard, empathy, or community. You might find yourself sharing your struggles with someone, but they don't share about themselves. Or perhaps you would simply like to cultivate more intimacy in a particular relationship through shared vulnerability.
Inviting another forward into shared vulnerability means creating a safe space in which what they share is met with attentiveness, curiosity, and compassion. This is more difficult and subtle than it sounds. It requires mindfulness and the ability to interrupt habits of giving advice, agreeing or disagreeing, telling a related story about yourself, consoling, or trying to fix or correct the other person in some way. A less vulnerable conversation jumps around from person to person, and a variety of responses which surely include the habits just named. A conversation that creates a safe space for shared vulnerability, however, requires more focus and intention.
The next time you are in an interaction in which you would like to invite shared vulnerability, check whether you are creating a safe space by observing yourself closely. Notice how quickly you bring attention back to yourself: your stories, advice, feelings, needs, etc. How many exchanges happen or how many minutes pass before you find yourself sharing or engaged in one of the habits mentioned in the previous paragraph? Challenge yourself to keep the focus on the other person until they change the subject, or for at least for fifteen minutes. Even when they stop sharing, you can keep your attention on what they said by either reviewing it internally or reflecting back what you heard aloud.
In any given friendship or intimate relationship, it's common for the more verbal partner to share first and share more. If you are the more verbal one in the relationship, invite the other person to share first. This might mean staying quiet and attentive during long pauses. It might mean offering some gentle questions about something in their life.
Someone also might share less because they don't really trust that you want to know them or care about what they have to say. Offering reassurance that you would really like to hear them contributes to a safe space and helps the other person risk sharing more.
Simply reflecting back what you hear in short phrases or single words or offering guesses about feelings and needs helps someone find more connection with themselves and thus more access to what's alive in them to share.
Essentially, inviting shared vulnerability means earning another's trust that you can consistently offer attentive, curious, and compassionate listening.
Choose one of the suggested strategies below and a relationship in which you would like to practice. Journal about your experiences, noticing what worked and didn't work in each interaction. How was it different from the usual interaction?
Strategies for inviting shared vulnerability:
- Challenge yourself to keep the focus on the other person until they change the subject, or for at least for fifteen minutes.
- Invite the other person to share first.
- Offer reassurance that you would really like to hear them.
- Offer short reflections and empathy guesses.