August 2023

How to build trust with your English speaking clients

Man in red t-shirt tightrope walking across Taft Point, Yosemite national park

Earlier this week I was chatting with a young professional.
I’ll call him Jack. (not his real name)

Jack and I were exploring his challenge connecting with customers and colleagues.

During our chat, he said . . .

‘I hate small talk, I’ve nothing to say, who cares anyway, what’s the point?’

I totally understood him.
When I was younger, I felt exactly the same.

He smiled as I shared a story of me in my 20’s.
I lived in a shared house, and my housemates described me as a stone.

I’d like to say they were referring to my ‘rock-solid confidence’.
But they weren’t.

Me being a ‘stone’ was a metaphor for being closed off.
Where they would talk about anything and everything, I’d be reluctant to join in.

Just like Jack, I’d be thinking . . .
‘I’ve nothing to say, why would they care, what’s the point?’

So the stone metaphor described my hard, impenetrable exterior.
Someone they struggled to connect with.
(Looking back, it impacted my personal and professional relationships).

As Jack and I talked, I shared a couple of other stories about my vulnerability.

For me, becoming less ‘stone-like’, and connecting with others, involved challenging a mix of personal beliefs, experiences and emotions.

It started with opening up to the concept of vulnerability.

I mentioned Brené Brown’s famous TED talk on vulnerability to Jack.
How developing an understanding of it and practicing it my life had transformed my personal AND professional relationships.

Jack was curious to know more, so I scribbled the TED title on a piece of paper.
I passed it to him and said I’d be interested to hear his thoughts about it next time we spoke. If he wanted to share them with me.

He smiled and shoved the paper in his jeans pocket.
‘I’ll watch it’
he said
‘But I’m not going to be vulnerable.’
We both chuckled at what sounded like Jack’s very determined statement.

But his comment, ‘I’m not going to be vulnerable’ stuck with me.

I don’t know what the idea of vulnerability means to Jack.
But using my own struggles as a reference, his statement suggested resistance.

I sensed the idea perhaps felt overwhelming and scary.
That vulnerability might suddenly enter his life and he’d be forced into being someone he’s not.

Valid feelings.

Us humans are cautious animals.
We naturally avoid danger.

When I notice I’m resistant to doing something, it’s usually something I would benefit from.

So why would you want to do something that exposes you to risk or feels uncomfortable or scary?

Vulnerability is the secret to make you more natural and authentic in ALL your communication.

Thankfully, humanity is slowly seeing the value of vulnerability.
More open and honest communication, leading to authentic relationships and stronger connection with others.

Something joyful, meaningful and precious.

That was the concept I was sharing with Jack.
Not trying to convince, or sell ‘vulnerability’ to him.

There’s so much we could explore on this topic, but what Jack’s comment got me thinking was this . . .

As a leader, communicating with vulnerability has value for you, your team and clients.

But how do you start being vulnerable?

What if we look at vulnerability not from our viewpoint, our fears, and insecurities but from the opposite perspective?

To get a new perspective on something, I like to turn questions or statements around.

Reverse direction.

So Jack’s statement, ’I’m not going to be vulnerable’,

Reverse direction becomes

‘Others need me to be vulnerable’

Reversing the statement changes it from a ‘me’ focus to an ‘others’ focus.
From a focus on your needs to a focus on others needs.

This is a quality of heart-led leadership.

With this new statement ‘Others need me to be vulnerable’
This opens you to the idea.
The natural question then becomes,‘How?’

As a leader, how do you ‘Be’ vulnerable for others?

Especially using English, when don’t have the same confidence as your native language.

Answer - One tiny step at a time.

Being vulnerable isn’t leaping from a state where you refuse to share anything personal with others,
Suddenly a transformed state where you are ‘fully vulnerable’.

It doesn’t work like that.

It’s a process that takes time, practice and trust.

You start with a tiny step.

You can visualise this like a tightrope.

A tightrope walker doesn’t quickly march across the rope to the other side.
He takes one cautious step at a time.
Each tiny step takes complete focus.
Focus in that present moment.

He’s not worrying about the bigger picture. Rather, how to take just one tiny step, then the next tiny step.

Practicing the art of vulnerability uses the same technique.

Next time you’re talking to a client or your team and something in your mind says - ‘Should I share this? Is it right? Why would they care?’

Trust your instinct.
Ask yourself

Is holding back in service of your needs to feel safe?


By saying it, is it thinking more of their needs?

Putting their needs first might it bring you closer. Highlight shared values, create trust, add some humour, find common ground.

Just like the tightrope walker, trust when it feels right to take a step.

You don’t need to share all your intimate life secrets or anything inappropriate.
But don’t hold back because you’ve decided it’s irrelevant or they won’t be interested.
Don’t do them this disservice.

Is it relevant to your discussion?
If it is, try it out.

To build your communication confidence, here’s your fun task!

When you think ‘should I share this?’ - visualise the tightrope and take a step.
Say something that makes you feel a little vulnerable.

Make it fun.
Practice with awareness, patience, self kindness.

Matt Ainsley

life adventurer and unconventionalist

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