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Why do we have a problem displaying honesty and vulnerability?

wellness & wellbeing Aug 13, 2021

We have a problem. We seem to have a cultural inability to show vulnerability, fallibility or to simply say: 'I don't know' in answer to a question. We see this in lots of different ways - as individuals, as businesses, as politicians (maybe we shouldn’t go there), and sometimes even as doctors. We talk collectively about the importance of mental wellbeing on a personal level and transparency on a business level, but there’s a bottleneck when it comes to the follow through. Are we failing to recognise the strength in vulnerability?

The vulnerability divide

We saw this recently at the Olympics. When Simone Biles, dropped out to preserve her mental (and physical) health, a decision that must have taken enormous strength and that was clearly the most responsible thing to do, responses were divided between those heralding her strong and those deriding her as weak.

We hear patients talk about doctors who are unwilling to answer questions that they don’t know the answer to. Perhaps that’s for fear of getting something wrong in a litigious culture. Perhaps it’s because when we’re frightened (as we no doubt are in the face of a cancer diagnosis) we seek out definitive answers and doctors feel pressure to honour that. Or perhaps because there is an unwritten expectation that a profession built on science should be able to provide answers.

We hear cancer patients who have been frightened to voice their own fears and worries - to be honest about how they feel about their diagnosis or their treatment. We can’t count the number of times we have heard someone say “I thought I was the only one experiencing XYZ side effect” or breathe a sigh of relief when they find out that they are not alone. Some of the most helpful articles we have written for cancer patients on our Beauty Despite Cancer site have been the hardest to write. What to expect from mastectomy surgery for example has been particularly helpful for those newly diagnosed with cancer and seeking some level of control by understanding the journey ahead.

Vulnerability in the spa industry

Paraphrasing Brené Brown, the famed expert on social connection, the Harvard Business Review, said:

“vulnerability and authenticity as lying at the root of human connection. And human connection is often dramatically missing from workplaces.”

There are few places where human connection is more integral to the success of the business than spas. Both when it comes to caring for therapists and our own teams, as well as caring for clients, if there’s no human connection, there’s really nothing at all.

What we do hinges on a physical touch, but one of the big reasons the services we offer are so meaningful is because we provide a space in which people can be vulnerable and feel safe at the same time. We have written before about language and communication and its role within our work as therapists - this is all part and parcel of allowing that vulnerability for our clients. But do we make allowances for it within our own teams and our own organisations?

We know that the spa industry is having a tough time at the moment. Yes, spas have reopened, but many therapists have sought alternative employment in the meantime. Plenty of those returning remain fearful of the working environment or of putting vulnerable clients at risk. Even where everyone is happy to return to work, restrictions on capacity and additional protocols that remain in place put pressure both on the businesses themselves and the individuals with them. Challenges in the spa industry are not just a result of the pandemic, however. The role of a therapist can be mentally as well as emotionally demanding, and while data is scarce, estimates on how long individuals stay in the industry range from as little as one year to eight years.

Taking care of our therapists

While therapist welfare and addressing individual vulnerability is not the beginning and end of the challenges that spa businesses face, there is no business at all without our therapists. Providing a working environment where therapists are supported, is integral to getting therapists not only into the workplace but happy, confident, eager to stay and providing the best experience possible. As businesses we need to admit that we are vulnerable to one another, and we need to be prepared to talk about vulnerability.

So, what can we do to support our therapists? Talk, listen, provide appropriate training and empower with knowledge to make informed decisions about client and self-care. There are examples of support and a change in business dialogue emerging.

Sam Pearce, founder of Low Ears, and a therapist herself, has worked towards addressing the issue by creating a button that can be integrated into salon software. Its journalling facility allows therapists to log their ‘mood’ and enables teams to support one another by monitoring mental wellbeing.

During lockdown, Elliott Wakefield from Alexander Hotels discussed the variety of ways in which he and his team simply sought to keep the lines of communication open, to check in with one another and to talk. He said:

“For our team it’s really important to get that sense of community and to show we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure our company recovers in the most robust fashion. There’s training that we’ve done, such as the Jennifer Young Cross Infection Control course for therapists. We have had book clubs, and plenty of tea (or gin) and chats.”

Steve Charlton - Founder, The REAL Leadership Consultancy, says:

“Real leaders aren’t afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers, or indeed might be struggling. If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that showing vulnerability and opening up to your team, colleagues or friends is no longer frowned upon as a weakness. It makes you more approachable, creates a more inclusive workplace, and most importantly ensures those around you feel comfortable doing the same. Who wants to work with someone who always claims to have all the answers and shows no weakness? If you want to attract the right talent to scale your business in this new hybrid world, you’ll need to create a safe and inclusive culture, full of excitement, innovation and continuous learning.”

For our own part, we also know that giving therapists the tools that they need to feel confident in what they’re doing, what they’re saying and how they’re keeping themselves and their clients safe, is integral to the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of all. The equipment, the space, the training are all vital, and the upshot might not just be the long-term strength of your business, but the tools to make a vulnerable client feel safe and strong enough to simply say: “I’m not ok.”

You can find out more about Jennifer Young Training courses in oncology touch treatments, risk management and more by following the link below.


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