Taking Note
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Taking Note

Why It’s Time to Take Off Your Workplace Armor

Vulnerability is an asset — not a liability

Vulnerability: what the heck is it?

In her book, Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, author and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

Why it’s time to lose the armor

The thought of being exposed at work is enough to keep most people up at night. So, as an act of self-preservation, many try to protect themselves from the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure by suiting up in “workplace armor.”

What vulnerability in the workplace looks like IRL

During her presentation at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, Kristen Przano, Sr. Manager at Capital One Garage Innovation Center, shared her insights on why vulnerability in the workplace is so important.

How to incorporate vulnerability in the workplace

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. And truth and courage aren’t always comfortable.”

Clearly, embracing vulnerability in the workplace and allowing yourself to be seen — in all your imperfect glory — is a must for building a thriving corporate culture. But how, exactly, do you do that?

Admit what you don’t know — and ask for help when you need it.

No one has all the answers. Remember, not even Batman can do it alone (that’s what Robin is for!). If you need help, ask for it. When you show you’re not afraid to ask for help, it allows other people to do the same.

Take accountability when things go wrong.

When something goes wrong, it’s easy to point fingers and assign blame. Taking accountability and owning up to your part in things allows you to learn from the experience and use it as a platform for growth. It also encourages your team to do the same. Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO, recently rolled out a new ad campaign that openly acknowledges the company’s recent issues while taking responsibility for fixing them and delivering a better service in the future.

Accept imperfection.

No one is perfect, and if you expect your team to be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed — and potentially push them away. If you want to inspire the best in your people, you need to have realistic expectations. A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule: if people are delivering 80 percent of the time, then that’s a success.

Develop awareness.

If you’re new to the vulnerability game, it’s going to feel really uncomfortable at first. It helps to develop an awareness for how vulnerability feels. Where do you feel it in your body? What are some of your fears around it? Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions around vulnerability without being judgemental or feeling like you have to change anything. The more aware you are of your discomfort around vulnerability, the easier it will be to overcome it.

Find someone you trust and practice.

There’s an old joke about the way to get to Carnegie Hall: ”practice, practice, practice.” And it’s the same way with vulnerability. Find someone you trust at work and practice opening up. The more you practice, the easier it will get — and the more comfortable you’ll be practicing vulnerability across the board.

Don’t shy away from the tough conversations.

Part of embracing vulnerability is having open and honest conversations, even when it’s uncomfortable. Don’t shy away from talking about the tough stuff. It’s often the hardest conversations that tend to lead to the most growth. Take Matt Cooper, General Counsel at Capital One, for example. Cooper recognizes talking about the tough subjects (including the #MeToo movement) is important, so he’s willing to push past his fear and discomfort. “I know this is a very big topic and because it’s a very big topic it’s one that is hard to talk about. And because it is hard to talk about I have a little bit of fear in talking about it in the right way,” he admitted.

Be authentic.

When you show up as your authentic self, you give other people the permission to do the same. “Don’t ever try to be anything you’re not. People prefer leaders with flaws because it makes leadership attainable to the rest of us,” says Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, who regularly blogs about vulnerability and shares his past failures (including losing $40M in a bad investment) to show his followers that everyone makes mistakes — executives included.

Taking the plunge

Vulnerability in the workplace can feel uncomfortable. As Dr. Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable.”

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