To be vulnerable is to be human. To be approachable. Honest with yourself and others. It’s not about being weak or submissive or unhinged. Being in a vulnerable state is something that happens organically in our most intimate of relationships, but it’s rarely something we associate with office behavior. You’d rather play it cool than admit when something’s wrong or when you need a hand.
You feel like you can’t falter; you’ve got to have all of the answers—for your boss, your boss’ boss, or your team. You’ve got to act like you’ve got it all together, not admit when things aren’t going smoothly or when a situation in your personal life is impacting your work.
The truth, however, is that this façade is probably doing you more harm than good, regardless of what role you’re in or how many people you manage or don’t manage. Instead of falsely pretending that there’s no problem you can’t handle, what you should be doing is dropping the professional coolness you think is helping you get ahead, and instead embrace the opportunity to be vulnerable.
Exposing yourself emotionally—whether it’s bringing up an ill parent you’re worried about, expressing excitement over hitting a personal goal, or admitting to your team that you’re behind with your work—requires risk, yes, but the payoff stands to be huge.
Being vulnerable at work and emotionally available and in tune doesn’t mean you must be best friends with your colleagues, though there’s plenty of research that suggests forming friendships with your co-workers can make you happier at work.
The ability to be authentic is the core of human connection, and as Emma Sepals explains in a Harvard Business Review piece on the subject, “The research shows that the personal connection and happiness employees derive from their work fosters greater loyalty than the amount on their paycheck.”
Megan Dalla-Camina’s article for Psychology Today “Can You Be Vulnerable at Work?” doesn’t sugarcoat what this practice requires, but she, nonetheless, makes it sound enticing:
“Being real takes courage…Being vulnerable means rather than needing to always be the expert, that we can ask questions when we don’t know something; instead of trying to do it all, that we can ask for help when we’re struggling; and when things go wrong, that we’re willing to ask for feedback, take accountability and learn from it.”
The last time I checked, possessing courage was a positive attribute. While it may be challenging or unfamiliar territory to admit that you’re struggling with a project or assignment—“What will my boss think?” “Did I just screw up my chances for a promotion?” “Is everyone smarter than me?”— or opening up about the difficult time you’re going through—it’s also really freeing. It takes a brave person to put forth his authentic self because of that fear of being accepted.
Think about it though: If being vulnerable with your partner ultimately brings you closer together—in spite of that sometimes initial bump of discomfort—why wouldn’t the same be true of your work relationships?
Again, this isn’t to say that you and your boss need to be BFFs, or that you need to be an open book when you’re by nature a private person, but if you can manage to be the real you at work (and not just at home with those close to you), the likelihood that your professional relationships will flourish is high.
And if getting along better with co-workers is likely to lead to career success, it’s kind of a no-brainer.
Photo of woman looking thoughtful courtesy of Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.