Work Place Vulnerability: Do’s and Don’ts
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. And truth and courage aren’t always comfortable.”– Brene Brown
Have you noticed that the lines have blurred a bit when it comes to work and our personal lives?
Workplaces are increasingly encouraging their employees to be more open and authentic. If you feel skeptical about this, you are definitely not alone.
We are socialized to maintain a clean barrier between our professional and personal lives. Admitting you are struggling in your personal life in the workplace? Seems unthinkable. Doing so would involve deliberately poking holes into that carefully crafted professional veneer. And this feels inherently risky.
Being open with our co-workers does not have to lead to a series of unfortunate events. Sometimes it can bring people closer together, essentially humanizing them. Many of us experienced this while working from home over the last year. When our colleague’s cats walk across the keyboard or the meeting was interrupted by a little one struggling with homeschool, those colleagues instantly became more relatable, and real.
Why Would You Want To Be Vulnerable (of all things) At Work?
Vulnerability has traditionally been viewed as a weakness in the workplace. We know that vulnerability and compassion are actually enormous sources of strength. While this truth is slowly but surely making its way into mainstream thought, many workplaces will not reward moments of vulnerability.
So why would we want to risk being viewed as weak to challenge this flawed norm though? Here are a few good reasons:
Without vulnerability with your colleagues, it’s easy to get caught in the perfectionism trap. Vulnerability at work looks like letting your colleagues know when you are struggling or in way over your head.
Being vulnerable at work can look like taking risks and sharing your ideas. Most people are afraid their ideas won’t be well received, no matter how good the idea is. When we are unwilling to be vulnerable in the workplace, our ideas can stuck in this fear stage.
Vulnerability makes us come across as more relatable and trustworthy. Many of us would prefer to seek advice from people who can admit their mistakes, ask questions when they are struggling, and be open to feedback.
Work Place Vulnerability Looks A Little Different
This process of being vulnerable looks a little different in a workplace setting though.
Vulnerability does not mean sharing everything with everyone! Even outside the workplace- our vulnerability should not be accessible to just anyone at any time.
Vulnerability requires a foundation of trust that takes a while to build because it is an emotional risk.
According to the vulnerability queen Brene Brown, you can be vulnerable at work without disclosing too much personal information. If this sounds contradictory, here is an example of what Brown suggests this can look like in practice:
“I’m really struggling right now. I’ve got some stuff going on and it’s hard, and I wanted y’all to know. And I want you to know what support looks like for me is that I’ll check in with you if I need something or I may take some time off. Support also looks like being able to bring it up with you when it’s helpful for me but not having to field a lot of questions about it. That’s what I need right now.” (source: How to be vulnerable at work without spilling everything, from Brené Brown)
In the quote above Brown did not actually disclose the nature of the personal issue. She did however, express that there is something going on in her life which means her needs at the workplace have changed.
Brown also expressed her boundaries clearly and helped her colleagues understand what support looks like for her right now.
Work Place Vulnerability DO’s
Taking all of the above into account, here is our quick guide to approaching vulnerability in the workplace.
- Admit when you need help and try and seek it
- Let trusted colleagues know when life stressors are significantly impacting your performance at work
- Share stories about your life that show you are more than a colleague and also a human being with a rich and varied life
- Be encouraging and considerate when your colleagues are vulnerable with YOU- this creates a positive company culture
Work Place Vulnerability DON’Ts
- Disclose personal details or all the particulars when it is not necessary
- Say things that can be held against you or cost you opportunities
- Shy away from tough conversations
- Pretend like everything is A-okay when there are issues affecting your ability to work well
Work place vulnerability sounds like an oxymoron, I know. However, I really do believe this past year has shown us the value of both vulnerability and getting to know our colleagues as people with rich and sometimes complicated lives.
I want to hear from you: Have you ever taken the vulnerability plunge at work? How was it received?
Until next time!
Sarah Ahmed is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Sarah strongly favors an integrative, trauma-informed, client-centered approach to create a healthy alliance with clients and their loved ones.