Peak Mind Pro: Vulnerability at WorkOct 27, 2023
There's a trend toward being vulnerable and authentic at work...at least in some industries and organizations. This shift is powerful and likely here to stay. That's because vulnerability in the workplace is associated with all kinds of positive things like increased productivity, creativity, and innovation.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of vulnerability in the workplace, though, is that it garners trust. Trust, in turn, increases teamwork, improves culture, and promotes employee engagement and loyalty. When we are willing to be vulnerable by being authentic, we forge stronger bonds, build better teams, and boost bottom lines.
Despite mounting evidence in the form of both research and case studies, there's still quite a bit of resistance to the idea that vulnerability can facilitate, rather than hinder, success. That's because of misunderstandings, misapplications, and good old-fashioned fear.
What Vulnerability Is...and Isn't
For many people, vulnerability is seen as weakness, which is an incredibly off-base misunderstanding of what it actually is. Vulnerability is the feeling we get when we aren't sure how something we do is going to be received. In other words, we feel vulnerable when we put our ideas, experiences, or selves out there and aren't exactly sure what the outcome is going to be. It's leaping into the unknown, which may leave us feeling exposed or open to getting hurt in some way. It's uncomfortable, but it's not weak.
In the face of uncertainty, we tend to get anxious, which drives us to avoid it. At work, this leads to masking, denying, or otherwise hiding our humanness. We work hard on impression management, trying to project confidence and competence on the misguided notion that being anything less than perfect or professional will impede our success.
It may feel like weakness, but as Brene Brown puts it, vulnerability is courage walking. In order to do something that feels uncertain or risky, we must be brave. We must be willing to take a chance and to be uncomfortable. In this case, being vulnerable at work means being courageous enough to show up as your authentic self, the real you.
Being vulnerable at work does NOT, however, mean trauma-dumping or oversharing. It is not the same as being completely unfiltered, making excuses, or giving TMI. Instead, it's just about pulling back the curtain and letting yourself be seen. It's about being real in the service of fostering trust and moving work forward.
1. First and foremost, lead by example.
"Do as I say, not as I do" absolutely does not work. To create psychologically safe cultures in which people are free to be authentic, leaders must model vulnerability. Be real and be honest, in the service of your organization's goals and relationships with your team.
Reinforce others for being vulnerable, too. That means paying attention to how you respond. Did you respond in a way that demonstrated understanding and support? Or did you somehow, even inadvertently, punish their vulnerability by invalidating it, ignoring their needs, or criticizing efforts?
2. Share your actual thoughts and feelings.
Being open about what you think or how you feel, particularly as it relates to work, is part of being authentic. If you're excited about something, share it. If you're concerned about something, share that, too. This level of vulnerability opens the door for constructive conversations, particularly about difficult topics.
Sharing your actual thoughts and feelings can help prevent burnout, too. If you have other stressors going on that are impacting your capacity, being appropriately open about that can lead to getting the support or accommodations you need to take care of yourself while maintaining a strong performance at work.
3. Ask for help.
Building on that last point, everyone needs help sometimes, and acknowledging that takes courage. Ask for help when you need it. And give help when others request it.
4. Own your mistakes.
Taking responsibility for your mistakes or failures can feel vulnerable, especially if you're in a culture that is intolerant of them. Owning mistakes rather than passing blame or making excuses allows for learning and productive problem-solving.
When others make mistakes, respond with grace. Again, failures and mistakes are learning opportunities and lead to growth, both in terms of personal/professional development as well as innovation processes.
Some Words of Caution
- Being vulnerable at work does not mean indiscriminately sharing all of your personal details with everyone you encounter. Be open - share your ideas, thoughts and feelings, and experiences - as it relates to work. When it comes to sharing personal details, that may be a bit trickier. While letting people at work know that you're experiencing health issues, that your child is struggling and needs more of your time, or that world events are affecting you may absolutely be relevant and useful for your colleagues, bosses, or subordinates, be thoughtful about what you disclose to whom. Ask yourself if sharing will benefit your relationships (e.g., build trust or connection, contribute to a healthy culture) and/or move work goals forward.
- Being authentic is also not a green light to be unkind, disrespectful, or hurtful toward others.
- Fake vulnerability will backfire. Don't pretend. Others will see through it, and you'll lose trust.
Peak Mind creates and delivers psychological strength trainings to help you and your teams thrive at and outside of work. One of our newest sessions, Real Men Feel: How to Build Emotional Intelligence, is designed to challenge toxic masculinity and foster emotional intelligence, just in time for Men's Health Awareness month in November.
One of our other new sessions, Change Your Mind, Your Change Your Life: A Guide to Helpful Thinking, has gotten rave reviews. Attendees have loved learning how their minds work and how to combat negative, distorted thinking.
Having a solid mindset and high emotional intelligence can help you navigate vulnerability with more confidence and ease. Interested in talking about how your team might benefit from one of these trainings? Contact us at [email protected].
These articles and podcast episodes may also be of interest:
"Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage." - Brene Brown
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