What Brené Brown taught me about relationships

Her next book should be, ‘Dare to Date’

If you don’t know of her, well, it’s nice to see you out from under your rock.

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Much of her work is based on her finding that the path to courage is through vulnerability, and that courage is the cornerstone to great leadership.

I think courage is also the cornerstone of dating.

Putting yourself out there, time and time again. Telling your story. Being judged by what you say, what you wear and how much you drink…

I’ll just have the one. I’m trying to cut back.

I’ve been a Brené fangirl since her Ted Talk on vulnerability back in 2010. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and invest 20 minutes.

Last month I was lucky enough to see her live. The session was all about becoming ‘daring leaders’, and what that means — the skills required and the behaviours that encourage courageous leadership. According to her 20+ years of research with thousands of top business leaders, Brené has identified a number of barriers to courage in the workplace.

“Yeah cool. But how is that relevant to dating?” I hear you ask? Well, pull up a chair and prepare to be educated by a 34-year-old divorced single mother…

  1. Tough conversations. If someone isn’t blowing your hair back, be honest. Have the conversation. Don’t avoid it for fear of hurting someone — you do more damage in the long run and end up hurting yourself if you ‘hang in there’ hoping for the best. And for God sake, don’t be a gutless ghost!
  2. Fears and feelings. No one likes getting their hopes dashed or their feelings hurt, but it’s the person in the arena who stands to gain the riches (or a few free drinks at the very least).
  3. Getting stuck in setbacks. It’s so easy to believe ‘there are no good men/women out there’, or that dating is a pointless exercise. But if we get stuck in setbacks we’ll never find what we’re looking for. What would the world be like if Walt Disney had listened to those halfwits who fired him from his job at a newspaper because he wasn’t ‘creative enough’…? Get back up, dust yourself off and don’t deny those fine ladies and gents on Tinder* the joy of your company.

“It’s not fear that gets in the way of being brave, it’s armour. How we self-protect when we’re afraid. To be brave we have to find the courage to keep the armour off,” Brené Brown.

And if you think people are either born brave and able to do these things naturally — or they’re not — research suggests otherwise. In fact…

Courage can be learnt

After exhaustive studies and focus groups with thousands of leaders across the globe, Brené discovered there are four key skills that build courage.

1. Vulnerability

This is all about uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. This is having the courage to show up and be seen when you cannot control the outcome.

2. Living your values

If you’re living in alignment with your values it gives you a powerful indication when something isn’t quite right. For instance, if my date orders ‘extra coriander’, that’s a relationship-limiting move and possibly an immediate firable offence.

3. Trust

There are seven key behaviours that build trust:

  1. Boundaries: What is OK and what is not OK?
  2. Reliability: Turn up to that date. Follow through on that promise.
  3. Accountability: If you did it, own it. (Similar to ‘he who smelt it dealt it’, but a little more mature).
  4. Vault: Do not share what is not yours to share. Especially herpes.
  5. Integrity: Do what you say you’re going to do. Simple.
  6. Non-judgement: Understand that everyone is different. Unless they eat coriander, and then judge away.
  7. Generosity: The assumption of positive intent. If you live with the thought that people are doing the best they can in any situation, it makes for a much happier life. Fact.

Fascinatingly, when Brené quizzed some of the top leaders of the biggest and most successful organisations in the world — from Fortune 500 to sporting teams and the defence forces — there was one absolute stand-out when they were asked, “What quality builds your trust in another person”. The response, which was the same from every single respondent (unheard of in qualitative research)… The ability to ask for help. So get on the phone to your girlfriends and vent— sometimes we all need a little help from our friends, even if it’s just to polish off that ‘family block’ of chocolate.

4. Learning to rise

When dating we need to work out our ‘bounce’ muscle — that is, the ability to get back up after a setback. The ability to reset and move forward.

Brené uses the example of sports scouts in the US. She asked the question why they choose certain players over others — assuming it was always a fight-out over the most highly skilled and athletically proficient. The scouts said that with any sport there is an absolute ‘base level of skill and fitness’ that’s required — much like childbirth where one is required to have all the relevant lady parts in working order, and the ability to somehow have a watermelon-type object removed from their nether regions. But, what she discovered is that…

…The players who are in the highest demand are not those who have the superhuman skills and athletic ability, but rather those who know how to get back up, time and time again, and to reset when things don’t go their way. The player who will chip away and inspire their team mates, and who, despite setbacks, will keep turning up and giving it 110%. Because that’s what courage looks like.

The fact is, dating in the modern world takes courage and the strength to get back up, time and time again — even when you’ve been hurt, let down, stood up, ghosted and sometimes even humiliated. But what’s the alternative?

I rest my case.

*Exhaustive personal research has shown there are very few ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ on Tinder, but you get my point.

Chronic over-sharer. Graphic language lover. Aspiring coffee addict. Highly functioning single person. Mum. Animal enthusiast. Don’t like much music post 1989.

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