Put yourself on display. Why vulnerability at work is the secret to developing trusting and supportive relationships
A friend of mine recently took a picture of me at a social event. He then sent me a number of photos where he had put the original photo in different formats, the above photo placing my portrait on display in the Louvre Museum (step aside Mona Lisa) is one of them. I loved his creativity and it got my own creative juices flowing. I got to thinking: “What would it be like if not only your photo but your life – what you think, what you do and who you actually are without any filters – was on display”. I’m not talking about reality TV (which if you don’t know by now is actually scripted – sorry to disappoint you), or the Instagram and Facebook posts of our amazing accomplishments or moments we choose to share. I am talking about a real-time take on our actual thoughts and actions. The ones we choose to hide and fluff over because we are truly concerned with what people will think or say.
This exposure will obviously make you vulnerable and a number of us, myself included, have been taught to hold our cards close to our chest when it comes to our fears, feelings and thoughts. It’s true that if you don’t open up and share, you are less likely to get hurt or criticised.
Why on earth would you want to give people weapons to hurt you with? That could be seen as self-sabotage.
On the other hand you are also less likely to build trust and gain support from others too. It can be pretty lonely when you only show people what you think they need to see. After all, if you are walking around projecting a tough “I’ve got my sh*t together and you better be the same” exterior, it is most likely that everyone you deal with will be too intimidated to actually show you their weak spots and will mirror the same attitude. There are obviously benefits to this. For instance you won’t have to deal with people sharing their problems or fears with you. The downside to this, for leaders especially, is that the people you have the responsibility to develop and grow, will most likely play the game of hide and seek with their own weaknesses and fears, which will obviously slow-down the growth process.
There is also the issue of trust. Many of us spend time thinking about what people are thinking of us and can we trust them with ‘who we actually are’. The sad truth is that this is a waste of precious time and energy. Others’ opinions of you actually doesn’t have much to do with who you are and a lot to do with their own life experiences and self-perception.
You are perfectly correct in thinking that displaying vulnerability will make you just that: vulnerable. However, if you really want to develop relationships that are built on trust, vulnerability is key. If you are not yet convinced here are two reasons (and there are many more) that may sway your views on vulnerability:
You will strengthen your connections
Sometimes we are afraid to expose our feelings even to ourselves. But acknowledging and accepting our feelings is an important part of being in touch with ourselves and sharing ourselves with others. A big part of strengthening our connections involves being willing to share how you feel with someone else.
You will be able to express what you really think
Any workplace and personal relationship should be a space in which we aren’t afraid to say what we really think. This doesn’t mean being insensitive or unnecessarily hurtful, but it does mean offering an authentic exchange. We should be open to giving and receiving feedback without being overly defensive. Remembering that we are all human and therefore flawed can help us have more self-compassion and interest as we engage in more honest exchanges.
As they say, nothing ventured – nothing gained, and if you want things to change, you have to change. So if you have decided to take the leap (or even a tiny step) to try on vulnerability for size, here are four small actions you can try to start the process at work:
- Start by thinking about who you are at work and who you are at home–are they the same person? Most people let themselves relax and be comfortable at home, so try to embrace those same principles at work to be authentic to your true self.
- Next, use that personality for real conversations. Colleagues want to work with a human, not a robot, and most people are excited to talk about their personal lives and emotions, either good or bad.
- Build connections with co-workers through real, honest conversations. Having open, non-judgmental conversations fosters an environment of cohesiveness and teamwork where people feel they can share issues and ideas, both personal and professional, in a safe atmosphere. That emotion can also translate to the boardroom.
- Get invested and show emotion about a project or report. You might not always be successful, but getting emotionally invested in a project encourages others to do the same and can improve morale and excitement.
Vulnerability challenges us to give up an old, familiar identity and form a new concept of ourselves in which we believe that we’ll be accepted for who we are. However, staying vulnerable helps us consistently recognise our value as a unique and independent human being, while giving us the courage to reveal ourselves in ways that will strengthen our connections.