The Value of Vulnerability

manager adviceWhen is the last time you deliberately demonstrated vulnerability in front of someone at work? It’s hard, isn’t it? I think it’s especially difficult if you’re in a management position. You don’t want to open yourself to ridicule, rejection, criticism, and attack. You resist being judged. You prefer to be viewed as together and strong instead of fractured and weak. Believe me, I get it. I’ve been there. Often.

The truth is that all of us are vulnerable, and we fear showing it. But over the years I’ve discovered the benefits to letting others see who we really are. If you choose to tolerate some temporary awkwardness, you find out there’s a lot to gain. Vulnerability makes you human to those who are watching. It breaks down walls and enhances relationships. It builds trust. Through the example of your uncensored honesty you give your staff, peers, and maybe even your boss permission to stop hiding, pretending, and masking—efforts that demand incredible energy when you stop to consider it.

How you choose to show vulnerability at work is up to you. This article offers specific language that represents a few different ideas. There’s no need to implement all of them. In fact, I recommend that you don’t unless you’ve already developed skills in this area. During the next sixty days dip your toe in the water with just one and see what happens.

I made a mistake. Contrary to what you may think, admitting you goofed or erred in judgment is likely to boost your credibility in colleagues’ eyes. It’s one thing to own your mistake in the privacy of your mind; it’s quite another to acknowledge it aloud. Because this is uncommon behavior, people generally sit up and pay attention.

I misunderstood. Openly declaring that you didn’t listen intently, that you missed key information, or that you misinterpreted someone’s main point in a conversation takes courage. Once you realize you misconstrued something, asking for clarification is wise on your part because it helps you avoid making a glaring mistake going forward.

I’m sorry. From the time we are small many of us have connected apologies with shame. If this is true for you, ring in the New Year by creating a healthier new association. I bet you never thought about it: “I’m sorry” can emerge from confidence. Practice saying it from that place.

I need help. It’s frequently tough for managers to disclose their need for assistance with a task, a project, or a problem. When you do, you may feel inadequate or inept. But asking for help can be a sign of strength. It opens the door for you to receive essential information, ideas, and insights—and let someone else shine. Seeking help may establish or cement a necessary partnership too.

I don’t know. In an era of information overload nobody is a walking encyclopedia. And nobody is expected to be one. While you may not enjoy having to profess that you don’t know a particular fact, process, or plan, you receive a lesson in humility every time you do so. Tell people what you know, and be forthright about what you don’t.

Letting yourself be vulnerable in the workplace takes practice. It’s an ongoing process that requires both self-acceptance and commitment. The start of a brand new year offers you an ideal opportunity to decide to allow yourself to be more vulnerable. By making that conscious decision you say yes to yet another form of growth. Though the holidays are over, vulnerability is a year-round gift you can give yourself and everybody else.

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