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  • Writer's pictureSubha

Honest conversations: Show vulnerability to build a stronger team

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

How showing vulnerability helps build a stronger team

Trust isn't built in a day. Many months into working remotely, some teams seem to have cracked the code while others are still struggling to figure out if every member is truly pulling their weight or not. To build trust in your workplace, group, or team, sharing your weaknesses is a must.

Showing your vulnerable side could be the key to getting your team to rally around you while you bring your authentic self to work.

Vulnerability is defined as

“the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”

In a work scenario, most would consider this a less-than-desirable trait. Being vulnerable means being open to potential criticism, not having the ‘psychological safety net’, or having your ideas and approach questioned.

Being pressured by work stereotypes is nothing new to most people. As leaders, in particular, would vouch, having to appear tough and upbeat at all times goes with the territory.

Yet, it is a given that things cannot be 100% great 100% of the time. From a rough workday to a personal problem, everyone has their issues and triggers. Yet it is unthinkable for anyone to reveal a chink in their armour at work. It is an act of self-preservation at best.

Why it is time to give vulnerability a chance

At a recent conference Kristen Przano, a senior manager at Capital One, spoke about her struggle with postpartum depression and having to keep up appearances when she re-joined work after her maternity leave.

Though she tried hard to contribute and show how well she was balancing motherhood and work responsibilities, she found herself overwhelmed. After an especially difficult day, she decided to open up to her boss, also a woman. Her superior not only understood what she was going through but also shared some of her own experiences. She was supportive and helped see herself and her team through that difficult period.

Harvard professor, Jeff Polzer, decodes it clearly when he talks about the receiver recognising the show of vulnerability and responding to it as the key to building trust.

“The second person is the key. Do they pick it up and reveal their own weaknesses, or do they cover up and pretend they don’t have any? It makes a huge difference in the outcome.”

Not all employees have bosses like Kristen’s, and nor do most companies yet have a culture that fosters support, no matter what. However, with a pandemic in the picture, that is changing rapidly and there is no better time to begin giving each other a chance, professionally.

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes vulnerability is a stepping stone to build better teams, foster innovation, and encourage creativity. It is a powerful tool for shaping a supportive, trusting, and positive team culture. While Google isn’t perfect, it comes close in terms of what an organisation’s culture could be. Being radically honest about oneself and the situation is a trait that is positively encouraged, resulting in the formation of employee chat groups and forums where everyone has a voice.

With the pandemic, work has entered our homes and all of their imperfect glory. It is time to lose the armour and come out as a human being.

Vulnerability at work can take different forms

Are we working from home or living in the office? Each one's context is different. Allowing your vulnerability to surface gives you the voice to tell a colleague when it's a tough day and you could use some help. The watercooler conversations gave us a chance to share (and vent) about the fatigue of eldercare or the tiring pile of school homework to monitor. Remote work and a pandemic only mean that more such conversations are needed. Try the following:

➢ Letting your colleagues know when you are close to burnout over a project or problem

➢ Asking for time off to attend to pressing issues that are hampering your ability to perform

➢ Taking ownership for a mistake

➢ A sincere apology to someone you snapped at in the heat of the moment

➢ Taking a deep breath and having that tough conversation without becoming defensive

Being vulnerable at work shows you are only human. All imperfections included. That you don’t always have all the answers, but you are trying and bringing your most authentic self to the table every day. Pretending that you know all the answers rubs people the wrong way, makes you appear insincere and fosters an atmosphere of distrust among your team members. Being honest and therefore vulnerable helps others understand that you will not lie to them when things go sideways and that they can rely upon you to give an honest opinion instead of saying what you think they want to hear.

Leading by example makes team members comfortable enough to be vulnerable when they really need to be, and bring their best to work, in turn.

Read more about the Vulnerability Loop here.

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