| Nov 30, 2021

The Lost Art Of Being Vulnerable

Openness and vulnerability are crucial traits to help you develop your skills and become the best employee possible. Here's why.
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By Emily Carney |

<1 minutes

Do you remember the last time you publicly owned up to a mistake? Or a time you openly admitted to doing a less-than-satisfactory job? You might not. Many of us are conditioned to believe that owning up to errors is a sign of weakness and makes one look less credible as a leader. Indeed, the term “fake it ‘til you make it” has been a sort of corporate mantra for decades. In blunt terms, it translates to “pretend you’re a success, even when you’re failing.”

However, the tide has turned. Most job interviews at present time not only focus upon past professional triumphs, but also upon past “what I wish I knew back then” situations. Admitting vulnerability at the workplace not only allows you to be more open as a worker and troubleshooter, but also establishes your credibility as an authentic leader who isn’t afraid to admit to not knowing everything – and is willing to learn.

 Fostering Collaborative Openness

When a brand new hire walks into or connects via the Internet to a new job, he or she is likely to be at least a little nervous that they will be unable to learn key job duties. Of course, we train new employees so they can learn jobs, buta new hire isn’t going to be as knowledgeable as, say, someone with a year’s experience in a similar position. That’s why it’s essential to foster a climate of openness in the work environment, where issues and/or misunderstandings that need addressing can be discussed without fear of ridicule, being called out, or worse.

Now, imagine your company’s CEO admitting to a minor mistake or running into a problem with a particular project or piece of software. This makes it clear to those in junior positions that it’s normal to not expect perfection when working on projects and encourages a culture of openness where others feel emboldened to share their own experiences. For example, maybe a specific app was giving other colleagues problems or others had similar issues working on the same project.

This act of admitting to issues then refocusing by discussing them openly allows teams to work collaboratively, versus working in different and separate bubbles with each team member isolated from other team members. It might sound like a cliché, but there is a lot of truth in the phrase “team work makes the dream work.”


Encouraging Self-Honesty

 There are times we make “goof ups” that might be embarrassing because the activities we were working on seemed so routine and so simple – the mistake may have arisen during a work task that you perform each day. However, this brings up the positive learning opportunity to reconsider the task and walk through it as if you were doing it for the first time. If you didn’t institute a step that may have made the task more efficient, now is the time to self-reflect and perhaps touch base with your colleagues to further refine the task.

View statistics and feedback from colleagues not as criticism, but as encouragement to make the work process go more smoothly. For example, if you work in sales, it’s easy to become discouraged if your weekly sales are lagging. But walking through your sales process, perhaps refining your pitches, and drawing upon colleagues’ experiences and suggestions will help you to learn more – and almost never fails to yield results. Self-honesty may not always be fun or easy, but it can help you improve professionally (and personally).

The Three-Step Method to Asking for Clarification

At the workplace – whether it’s at an office or online, populated by longtime employees or newer hires – one of the biggest barriers in communication involves simply asking colleagues for help with or insight into certain tasks. Again, some may find it embarrassing to admit they might not know everything (even though no one knows every task at any given workplace) or some may worry about receiving strong criticism based on asking a question. If you find yourself struggling to ask a colleague for clarification related to a task or project, there is a three-step method that can be used to aid the process:

  1. First, point out which aspect of the project/task you don’t understand.
  2. Ask for further clarification (be specific).
  3. End by saying, “I feel that knowing this would help me with these (insert specific tasks here).”

It might seem silly and redundant to make asking a question a three-step process, but this method allows employees to make his or her area needing clarification obvious, and also allows the colleague to understand how the employee is trying to approach a task or project. Again, it sounds like such a cliché, but free-flowing communication in the workplace is key in preventing problems with projects, misunderstandings, and interpersonal conflict. Good communication is also key in creating great leaders.

Twenty years ago, when I was in the military, if you told me I’d write a piece in the future about touchy-feely things like “openness” and “vulnerability” at work, I would have laughed at you. But times have changed – you can’t have a 21st century workplace with mid-1960s attitudes. A culture of openness and lack of judgment from the top down is critical in fostering growth in any workplace, in any industry.

Emily Carney
Executive Author

Strategic Media Analyst, Massive Alliance

Emily Carney is a strategic media analyst at Massive Alliance, where she helps to define the executive persona and provides publication support for the company’s editorial department. view profile


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