By E. Elizabeth Carter
It takes courage to be vulnerable especially in the workplace! It can be very difficult and stressful to be “seen” by others when faced with challenging issues. By exposing ourselves to others to voice our opinion, we open ourselves up to possible ridicule. HOWEVER more importantly it can open the door to innovation and willingness to look at situations differently.
The question then is when is it appropriate to show our vulnerability? Every situation is different so it is hard to define best practices when dealing with potential difficult conversations with coworkers, bosses, and/or other stakeholders. Hopefully the work environment is such that there is psychological safety, trust, and integrity. Without these three elements plus both parties having high emotional intelligence, these interactions could be very confrontational to the point that relationships are irreparable and the workplace becomes toxic.
To guard against this, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Some see this as being a time waster because they feel the other person will not budge on their opinion, is needy or whiny, or always has to win. Stick with the facts when you do your analysis of the situation and determine what the best outcome is that you could hope for. You also have to set boundaries for yourself and also consider the other person’s. In other words, take the time to make a plan just like you would if this was a project. Anticipate what the sunk cost would be if this does not come to a successful conclusion as well as what safeguards can be put in place so that both parties are respectful of each other.
Another thing to consider is: do we put ourselves in situations where we are more vulnerable than at other times? Naturally this can occur when meeting or presenting to senior level leaders in the company but we also have to identify those people we feel intimidated by for a variety of reasons. Why does our confidence drop when we interact with these people? What traits do they possess that make us feel insecure? Are they really doing anything differently than how others behave or are we just perceiving them in a different way?
There are definitely pros and cons to being vulnerable but we all have different tolerance levels. What we need to consider is not only how we feel but how do we project our thoughts to others and in turn do we make them feel vulnerable. This is just another part of our career journey in that we can’t have a meaningful connection with someone if one or both of us feel like we have hit a dead-end road.