Being vulnerable isn’t just for couples, it is important for friendships and any relationship in your life to get to a deeper level. It can be a very difficult thing to do, if it’s something that you’re not used to doing. Whether you’ve been hurt in the past by being open with a friend or loved one, we’re here to help you with some top tips to letting people into your life – on your terms.
1. Start with the small stuff.
Whether it’s a long trusted friend or a new acquaintance, being open and vulnerable can help in getting to know each other on a deeper level. If you’re nervous about opening up to someone – whether you’ve known the person for a long or short time it’s good to start with the little things. Don’t go straight into the thing your most treasured secret, start small. Find something that isn’t too personal, and build up from there.
Are you thinking about changing jobs? There might be many reasons that you’re nervous – you might not think you’re qualified enough, you might think that you can’t handle another job rejection. All of these are valid emotions to feel, and if you pick the right person they will be able to support you with words of encouragement, helpful tips that they have found useful in their job searches, or you may just want them as a sounding board. Over time, build up talking about deeper topics (if you feel comfortable) such as relationships, liking someone new etc. Starting small also enables us to see if the person we’re talking to is someone we will want to be vulnerable with in the future. By starting small you’re in your comfort zone of what to talk about, so there is minimal chance of getting hurt by what the other person might say.
2. Know what topics are off-limits for you.
If you have had a difficult upbringing, your family is a nightmare, or you are not ready to talk about your sexuality – keep this in mind. You do not have to talk about anything you do not want to talk about, no matter how hard someone pushes. If someone is being vulnerable with you, they may ask about your experience with this. If it is something you do not want to talk about, you can always say “I’m sorry I’m not ready to talk about my experience with that currently, but I appreciate you being so open with me about yours.”
It is not offensive to set clear boundaries with someone, but you also want to make sure that both people in this conversation are on the same page. If your main concern is getting upset and you know a certain area of your life causes you to cry – perhaps avoid talking about this subject until you feel comfortable being upset around this person.
Do not take it personally if someone asks you about something you do not feel comfortable talking about. They might not know, or have any knowledge that you have difficulty talking about it. Knowing your boundaries is such an important part of life.
3. Ask for advice – but choose the person wisely.
If you want to open up the conversation where something can be decided at the end of it – like a yes or no answer, make sure the person you have chosen is someone you trust. If you value their opinion, then ask for it. If you are unsure, do not ask for their thoughts. People love to feel included in what’s going on in your life, but it doesn’t mean they have to dictate what you do.
Opening up to someone and asking for their advice, (even if you do not take it) can make someone feel wanted in our friendship/relationship. Perhaps you could start a sentence with have you ever experienced X, have you ever done X? This could be a good indirect way to ask for advice without being too bold in what you are saying. If someone gives you unsolicited advice that you do not find helpful, be firm in your language and set the boundary that you’d just like a sounding board for your thoughts. Once again setting clear boundaries on what you didn’t do not want from this conversation.
4. Stay on a certain topic.
Don’t feel like you have to be vulnerable about every subject all at once. Pick something that you want to talk about such as what to wear…. or subjects you’re studying at school – keep your talking to that specific topic. So you are in control of what you let people know about you. If someone asks you a personal question that you don’t want to talk about you can politely decline to answer it – just say I’m not comfortable talking about that currently. As long as you’re polite in your language, you shouldn’t make that person feel rejected.
5. Write it out.
Before the conversation if you are nervous or find yourself ruminating in your own head about how the conversation will go, sometimes it can help to write out your thoughts. By writing out your concerns about how the conversation will go, it breaks that repetitive cycle in your head – and allows you to see it from a different perspective. Maybe it might help in understanding why you would be nervous about talking about this certain thing. You can write yourself a script for how you think the conversation could go – whether that’s badly or brilliantly. Sometimes if you have a tendency to overthink and your brain is coming up with thousands of situations – by writing these out you might be able to see that there’s so many positives to be had in talking about this issue you’re facing.
6. Actively listen.
Are you new to a group of friends at university or are you getting to know an acquaintance that you want to be a friend? It can be really useful to be an active listener in conversations, whether in a one on one or group situation. Sometimes just by listening you can learn a lot more about someone, and maybe hear that they are also trying to be open and honest with you. They might be trying to be vulnerable and let you in or express their concerns.
If you’re in a group situation and you don’t want to be too open – just listen! Just because you’re not participating in the main conversation, doesn’t mean that you are not interested. Sometimes people want someone to listen and offer no advice, and if you’re unsure then you can always ask! Active listening helps when you’re asking questions back as you take in every single word they said and you’re able to incorporate their answer/language in your response. This lets your friend know that you have been listening to their issues and you are someone they can rely on.
7. Don’t be afraid to be assertive.
If someone has given you unsolicited advice, don’t be afraid to stop them, and say something along the lines of ‘I was really hoping you could just listen to my problem for now.’. A conversation is a two way street, and if you have made it clear you would like someone to just listen, then it is ok to let them know how you feel comfortable talking about this issue. If you would like an issue solved, or need a brainstorm with a friend, make it clear from the outset. If you really want something, and want everything decided in the conversation – say it at the top so you’re able to get what you need. This can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and help solve your problem. Just be sure to not be rude in your language, or put the person down to get what you want.
8. Ask for clarification.
If you’re feeling confused after the conversation, or feel a bit confused as to what the person has said, don’t be afraid to ask them to explain that to you again. Or if you feel like you’ve been offended by something they have said, say something like “that’s hurt me because of this reason, did you mean it that way?” Some things can be taken so many different ways it can’t hurt to clarify what they meant. Instead of bottling it in, it’s best to double check – they might not even realise how it could have come across!
9. Pick the right time
If someone is rushing around and looks really busy but you want to be open and honest – that’s not the right time to talk to them. If they’ve just walked through the door after a long day at work, they probably need some down time before talking about things. It is always good to check with them and say something like ‘Hey I’m hoping to talk to you about something. Do you have time?’
If you’re in a public place and you don’t really want other people to overhear, maybe wait until you’re somewhere more private. If you know they’ve got a million things on their plate, maybe find a quieter time in their schedule. If they are a good friend and you just never seem to catch the right point – book in some time to go for lunch, have a movie night, or just pop over to their place. Carve out some distraction free time to have a conversation about something that is troubling you. Remember if someone doesn’t have time right now for you, it doesn’t mean they won’t ever. It just means you might have to wait a little bit longer to talk to them.
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