Last week, three people told me that the key to success in the current workplace is vulnerability. These people were unconnected to each other: a client, a partner, and a university professor. By the third mention, I couldn’t ignore it: vulnerability is trending in the workplace. Why do we need to learn to be vulnerable to succeed? I have three ideas.
1) Balance. Work life balance is dead, now there is just balance. You are friends with your CEO on Facebook, you participate in office fitness challenges, your family joins you on business trips. Increasingly, companies are looking at people comprehensively. This change is often for for the better, but it limits the information that is considered private: people are more vulnerable at work because they share more personal details with the people in their professional lives.
2) Leaning in is vulnerable. Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign of books and clubs has created a space for dialogue about what it means to be a woman at work: the struggles, the victories, and the complex considerations. This space is open to all: everyone has struggles, victories and trade-offs, and, as she point out, no one “has it all.” The changing cultural dialogue, spearheaded by Sandberg, is making it okay to talk about those challenges in new, personal ways.
3) It’s a differentiator. Vulnerability in the workplace is in the early adopter phase. Storytelling is incredibly popular in sales right now: that strategy is successful because stories give people the opportunity to engage emotionally. Making a true connection involves more than finding out that you went to the same school, it’s sharing that you were passionate about a specific cause there, met your partner there, or experienced a major life change there. Companies that embrace this, from sales to the C-suite, feel different from those doing business-as-usual.
Vulnerability is a double-edged sword and must be wielded carefully. Beware the desire to bare all or bullshit. Being vulnerable in the workplace doesn’t mean divulging your deepest darkest secrets: you must avoid making your customer or partner uncomfortable with the dreaded TMI. It also doesn’t mean fabricating a story about your life in an effort to gain respect or trust. It means finding the courage to share your authentic self, even when it would be easier to say ‘the right thing,’ or tell someone what you think they want to hear.
Business is about relationships, and we are sharing more than ever before. Finding the balance between being vulnerable and professional takes skill and practice, and you might make some embarrassing mistakes along the way. But richer relationships at work can lead to better collaborations, surprising insights, improved brand differentiation, and increased customer loyalty. The best part? Feeling that you can be yourself at work might make you happier, too.
Have you found success in exposing your softer side at work? Tell us about it in the comments!