Are You Ready To Be Vulnerable At Work?

When it comes to working with others, do you often find yourself armoring up?  Do you go out of your way to please others?  Do you find yourself going to great lengths to prove just how well you can perform?  Do you tend to micro-manage and control tasks in an effort to ensure any work that has your name on it is perfect in the eyes of others?  

The truth is, given that studies suggest up to 82% of workers report feeling like an imposter at times, you’re in good company if you’ve ever found yourself “armoring up”.  Unfortunately, researchers have found that feeling the need to hustle for your self-worth is associated with higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of job performance and job satisfaction.  So how can you avoid feeling like you need to armor up at work?

“The best place to start is by acknowledging that we are all works in progress,” explained Jessica Amortegui, Senior Director of Learning and Development at LinkedIn, when I interviewed her recently.  “Then befriending our vulnerability requires getting more comfortable with three aspects; emotional exposure, risk, and uncertainty.”

While embracing the emotional exposure, risk and uncertainty that comes with accepting yourself as being perfectly imperfect can be challenging, studies suggest that it is more helpful than having crushing expectations where you feel like you’re constantly falling short.  Jess suggested that accepting your vulnerability can help to combat your internal “not enough-ism,” where insecurities and self-doubt undermine your confidence with constant questions such as, “Am I doing enough? Am I being enough? Am I showing up enough?” 

Instead, Jess recommends asking yourself the bigger questions of, “What do I want? What do I care about? How do I want to show up at work?”  Using a “zoom out and in” approach, she suggests you can zoom out to understand this bigger picture of what is really important to you.  And then you can zoom in to understand what you need to be prioritizing each day to realize this larger vision of yourself.

Of course, finding the courage to be more vulnerable and authentic at work is also much easier if you’re in a team where it feels safe to be perfectly imperfect – or psychologically safe – together.  To help your team get more comfortable with vulnerability, Jess suggests trying the following:

  • Create vulnerability rituals – At the end of each quarter create a safe space for your team to discuss the three A’s (Accomplishment, Appreciation and Anticipation).  What did you accomplish this quarter that you’re proud of individually and collectively?  What did you appreciate this quarter about how you supported each other?  What are you anticipating and looking forward to in the coming quarter?
  • Reflect on your leadership – Use the retrospective Atlassian four L’s – Loved, Longed for, Loathed, Learned – exercise from the Atlassian team playbook.  Consider in the last 90 days what you loved about your leadership.  What were you awesome at?  What was your superpower?  Consider what you longed for; the thing you wished you could do, that’s been on your to-do list forever, that you never get around to because you don’t have the time or energy.  Consider what you loathed; the habit or ritual that is no longer useful or valuable.  And the rule is, you’re not allowed to add in a longed-for until you’ve removed the loathed to give yourself the extra space and time. Finally, consider what you learned.  Chances are, this will be something that’s gone wrong, as we usually learn more from mistakes than from success.  This can be a very confronting and powerful way to learn and practice your leadership skills.
  • Rush-and-point to create a connection – Try Abby Wambach’s approach to leading; after each goal that your team achieves, rush to congratulate them and point to all of those who made the achievement possible (even those with a smaller role). Not only does this help to build connection and confidence across your team, but it unifies them to the positive impact – the larger purpose – you are achieving together.

What new ritual could you introduce for yourself and for your team to help get more comfortable with vulnerability? To discover more evidence-based practices for helping people thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work podcast.