Workplace culture varies widely across fields, but most people would agree that there isn’t a lot of room for human weakness in most offices. For the emotionally intelligent person, however, a little vulnerability can actually give you a surprising amount of power.
Writer Gwen Moran spoke with leadership consultants Peter Bregman and Mike Robbins for Fast Company about why they counsel their clients to let their feelings show. They find that stronger leaders are more open and, most importantly, they know when to ask for help. Weak leaders won’t share “relevant concerns” about projects or other uncertainties, because they’re so desperate to hold onto their perceived power. That can cause problems, as you might imagine.
As a new employee, there are a few pieces of advice you'll hear over and over again: Come in with a good attitude, offer to do extra work as often as possible, and never, ever, cry at work. But the fact is, you're human - you're going to cry. Rather than avoid it at all costs and reprimand yourself for not keeping your emotions in check, it's better to prepare for the time it happens.
However, vulnerability shouldn’t include sharing “unnecessary travails, being falsely modest, or making the issues all about you and your concerns.”
“Vulnerability is risk, emotional exposure, and uncertainty. If you think about those three things, there’s really nothing meaningful or important that we can accomplish or experience in our lives, both personally and professionally, that doesn’t require one, two, or all three of those things,” explains Robbins.
Here are a few benefits that may just encourage you to open up a little at just the right moment.
You Seem More Confident
Being able to admit you don’t fully understand something takes guts, especially if you’re supposed to be in charge. You’re showing that you have a firm grasp of your own abilities and identity, and a willingness to grow. You also seem to trust that no one will be able to take advantage of you in this moment of vulnerability — because you’re strong as hell!
“The people who don’t have a lot of self-confidence, don’t often afford themselves the ability to be vulnerable. But the people who do have a lot of self-confidence, are actually willing to show more of themselves, right? They’re willing to be vulnerable because they’re not afraid that someone might come in and take advantage of that,” Bregman says.
It Helps People Connect With You
Sharing something honest and open encourages the people around you to do the same, which creates connections. As a leader, that’s beneficial, because people are more likely to work hard for people they feel a connection with. Bregman says it makes co-workers feel like you’re being a “real human being with them.”
What he’s talking about is authenticity. While most people would probably want the boss to project confidence and control, pretending there are no weak spots in your skills or knowledge makes you seem fake, because no one is without weakness. You may as well get the benefits of those weaknesses through relationship building and teamwork.
It Relieves Stress For Everybody
If you’re feeling nervous, other people in the office likely are as well, whether they’re picking up on your vibes or just experiencing general stress. Robbins shared an anecdote from his time playing professional baseball, admitting that he hid his nervousness about playing only to discover his teammates were all doing the same thing.
Sometimes speaking out loud about what’s worrying you can alleviate the worry, and Robbins says they can then perform better. You feel safer knowing everyone is on the same page, and that means they can focus on their work. Much better than sitting in your seat and wondering if you’re the only person freaking out.
Asking for guidance, perspective, and answers creates more opportunity for new ideas to circulate. If you’re in charge, acting like you have everything locked in will not allow space for growth.
Employees feel valued and part of the process. Because you’ve inspired trust, your team feels more invested in solutions and is more willing to contribute, Bregman says.
Vulnerability is a complicated concept that requires a strong sense of self to manoeuvre. If it’s something you’ve never tried, it might be because you’re not as powerful as you think.