To answer what it means to embrace vulnerability, we have to take a look at the psychology of emotional vulnerability and apply it to the workplace.
For the most part, when people hear the word vulnerability, they link the term to negativity, such as personal mistakes or software weakness. Either way, it spells professional danger for them.
But, there is a new wave of thinking which shows that embracing vulnerability in the workplace is actually crucial to success.
According to Dr. Brene Brown, an author and vulnerability researcher, “vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
Far from being something negative, vulnerability is actually the courage and willingness to show up and be seen, in spite of uncertain outcomes
It’s about taking off your workplace armor and allowing yourself to have discussions that may be uncomfortable, yet essential
It promotes respect in the workplace and means that coworkers can trust and confide in each other more
Instead of getting discouraged by their failures, teams can learn from failure what they need to improve and grow
Finally, embracing vulnerability also means crystallizing your company values so current employees and candidates see that they can bring the whole of themselves to the workplace, as opposed to having a professional self at work that is very different from who they are at home.
Being vulnerable can mean different things to different people.
And, at work, it can translate in a number of ways for employees, such as:
Letting their team know that they’re feeling overwhelmed on a project and need a break
Admitting to their employer that they don’t know how to solve a pressing problem
Apologizing when they realize that they’ve made a mistake
Saying sorry when they snap at a colleague after a long day
Simply put, being vulnerable, for employees, is all about being able to show other people that they are not perfect, that they make mistakes, and that they don’t have all the answers – that they’re human!
Embracing vulnerability can also be beneficial for a company to win over customers as well. While it’s never ideal that a company make a ton of mistakes, when someone at the company does, it’s best to get ahead of the issue by publicly admitting it, apologizing, and explaining how it will be avoided in the future.
While a company can do all of this with the help of an email marketing tool, it may be best suited as a video posted to social media if the budget calls for it and it’s a big enough mistake.
Why Is It Important to Embrace Emotional Vulnerability?
By embracing emotional vulnerability, employees will be able to authentically express themselves, establish strong connections with peers, and generate a sense of empowerment and freedom that will translate to increased productivity and retention.
Emotional vulnerability lets employees connect on a different level and leads to better collaboration and increased cohesiveness.
Below, we take a look at 5 reasons why companies should strive to embrace emotional vulnerability among employees.
1. Build a Culture of Trust
Trust plays a huge role in vulnerability. Employees need the courage to trust others and they, themselves, must have the integrity to be worthy of others’ trust.
There can be no vulnerability without trust. For growth to occur in a relationship, it requires both parties to open up and share all of who they are with each other – not just the good. For this to happen, trust must be present.
So how can this be done in the workplace?
Here are a few tips you can use to encourage employees to exemplify trust and trustworthiness:
Boundaries: Employees need to set clear boundaries and respect those set by their fellow employees.
Accountability: They must own up to their own mistakes, apologize, and fix them whenever possible.
Reliability: They must do what they say they’ll do, which means they shouldn’t over-promise at work but be clear about their limitations and deliver on commitments.
Vault: They should never share confidential information – especially when the information is not theirs to share.
Integrity: They should always do what’s right instead of what is easy and practice their values rather than simply professing them.
Non-Judgment: Employees should answer requests for help without judgment of those who are asking and be able to ask for help themselves.
Generosity: They should extend the benefit of the doubt to the intentions, words, or behaviors of other colleagues.
2. Enhance Rising Skills
This refers to the resilience of getting back up after a failure. Dr. Brown states that employees who are willing to risk being vulnerable, brave, and courageous are those who risk getting their ass kicked.
This is a natural consequence of courage and it’s also the reason why many find it so difficult to allow themselves to be vulnerable at work.
But, she further explains that it’s just as important to rise and pick yourself up after being knocked down. This is the inevitable suffering that comes with courage, and honing their “rising skills” can help employees weather those hardships.
Ultimately, those employees who have tried and failed – and tried again are those who develop resilience within themselves to find the true path to success.
This is what reminds employees of why they tried in the first place, and it’s a consequence of allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
The majority of businesses have some type of company values, yet relatively few actually live them. Our values define us in our deepest levels and businesses need to operationalize their values and translate them into specific behaviors that are not only observable but measurable too.
This gives employees who are willing to be vulnerable something to call on when they get knocked down.
It gives them the strength to try again and helps you build a more courageous culture where colleagues can have discussions that are crucial to your business even if they are uncomfortable.
Vulnerability in the workplace drives innovation, creativity, and change. Some of the best ideas are those that are cultivated in an environment of openness, collaboration, and meaningful exchange.
Each time someone brings a new idea to the table, there is vulnerability present. That’s why it’s crucial for businesses to create a workplace environment that not only accepts and embraces emotional vulnerability but also encourages and supports it.
That way, employees will have the confidence and courage to think creatively and express new ideas.
For instance, if someone at your company wants to begin hosting a podcast to share the company story, embrace the idea and try to have them explain the ideas before telling them no.
5. Foster Successful Teamwork
A foundation of trust is needed for effective teamwork. This requires the ability for team members to be vulnerable with others. Hardly anything of value will get done if employees don’t feel safe enough to be open with their coworkers.
Each person on the team needs to know they won’t be punished for speaking up, disagreeing, or taking risks.
Disagreements are inevitable when groups of people with different languages and cultures come together to create new things or solve problems.
But, people need to know that it’s all right for them to speak plainly and offer feedback. That’s why this is something that should be encouraged so you can have authentic, vulnerable communication that fosters more successful teamwork.
But, for such disagreements to be productive, it’s essential to have open, respectful, and honest communication.
Building a Culture of Vulnerability Among Employees
I hope by now you’ve seen that vulnerability in the workplace is an asset and not a liability, as most people believe. It’s something that is critical for both leaders and employees alike.
When you allow vulnerability among employees and remove uncertainty in the workplace, it’s a winning formula for creating a dynamic and sustainable culture of innovation, teamwork, and trust.
As a result, your organization will experience more security, respect, and engagement among employees, which will ultimately lead to improved business results.
It’s crucial to note that as important as it is to encourage emotional vulnerability in the workplace, this can be seriously uncomfortable for many people.
There are many steps you can take to encourage more vulnerability among employees. One important step is to start with you.
Practice Sharing Your Own Feelings
Vulnerability is not about over sharing, but you should learn to acknowledge your own feelings and then practice sharing them in order to foster stronger relationships with your colleagues. This encourages other employees to do the same.
It can be as simple as sharing something that you’re feeling eager and excited about – or you could share that you’re feeling worn out, and a little disengaged – as opposed to answering “I’m fine” when someone at work asks you “How are you?”
This may be a little uncomfortable for you, but, with practice, you’ll get there.
Everyone has vulnerabilities, personality components, and emotions that make up good and bad.
By hiding such vulnerabilities, employees are essentially denying a huge part of their personalities.
But, when you start taking steps toward embracing emotional vulnerability among employees, employees will feel comfortable taking off their workplace armor and everyone will benefit as a result.
There’s just one caveat to all of this…
Having explained how important it is for companies to allow employees to be vulnerable at work, it’s still important to note that companies will have to design processes and systems for the management of employees’ strong emotions.
Although vulnerability is still seen as taboo in many workplaces, things are changing as more and more employees and leaders capitalize on their own vulnerabilities in the workplace environment to build real connections, take advantage of the growth and opportunities that arise through engagement, respect, and trust.
The bottom line is that vulnerability isn’t something that only applies to personal relationships and personal development. It’s also a crucial aspect of the professional self employees bring to work.
By taking the plunge and embracing vulnerability among your employees, you’ll open the door to increased creativity, innovation, and productivity in your business.
Over to you. Do you think that your business could benefit from embracing emotional vulnerability among employees? Sound off in the comments below!
Ron Stefanski is an online entrepreneur and marketing professor who has a passion for helping people create and market their own online business. You can learn more from him by visitingOneHourProfessor.com
Kylee Stone supports the professional services team as a CX intern and psychology SME. She leverages her innate creativity with extensive background in psychology to support client experience and organizational functions. Kylee is completing her master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational psychology at the University of Missouri Science and Technology emphasizing in Applied workplace psychology and Statistical Methods.