The importance of building a culture of vulnerability within the workplace

A group of people in the office, discussing and pointing at sticky notes on a glass wall.

Vulnerability isn’t a word you might expect to hear within corporations, and whilst it might imply negative connotations, today we’re raising a case for why you should consider (and foster) a greater sense of vulnerability within your organisation. 

First, let’s look at what we mean by this. Vulnerability can be defined as ‘the quality of being vulnerable or something that is vulnerable’. Initially, this might not sound like something you’d want to apply to your organisation, but let’s take a deeper look into how vulnerability is essential in creating an engaged and emotionally open workplace culture. 

Why is a culture of vulnerability important?


By focusing on vulnerability in leadership, you can look to embrace uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure to build on connections and enable innovation.  Being vulnerable is more than finding out what is true, but feeling courageous, which is not always comfortable, and should never be a weakness. Professor Brene Brown defines vulnerability in the workplace as “the ability to express and expose, in words and behaviour, who we really are and what we genuinely think and feel. It is often mistaken for weakness or fragility, but it is actually the root of authentic leadership and meaningful connection. Vulnerability can help us to build trust, foster creativity, and engage with our colleagues in a deeper way.”
 

An organisation that denies vulnerability can end up having staff that feel unable to act in a way that is authentic and true to themselves, taking away valuable opportunities for connection and understanding. Meanwhile, a company that accepts vulnerability creates a workplace that is psychologically safe, where people feel comfortable to be themselves, are more likely to take creative risks, and can share different perspectives.

So how do you spark a more emotionally open, engaged working environment?


The idea is simple, but the execution can be difficult and is never going to be perfect. Primarily the focus should be on fostering a sense of open, genuine conversation and support. The most important element is to champion progress, accountability and learning over perfection. It is imperative that all members of a team feel included and that their voices can be heard without judgement. When leaders model vulnerability they can encourage others to do the same At Energise, our leadership team have been exploring vulnerability and innovation as part of the  ‘
Happy Leadership’ training they recently attended which advocates for cultures and workplaces that are based on trust and empowerment. Offering training around the topic of vulnerability and giving leaders a space to be vulnerable themselves can have a positive impact. Leaders can act as culture change multipliers, working to these values. 

Wider training such as lunch and learn sessions, seminars, or even the simple opportunity within meetings for people to share their opinions and wins can also be beneficial. For example, our Carbon and Environment pod hosts Culture of Care’ moments where team members share topics such as health and wellbeing. This blog on building a culture of vulnerability is built on from these moments! As a whole organisation, we take time at our weekly team meetings to share and celebrate each other’s personal and professional wins from the week. We also create our own ‘Working With’ documents detailing how we work best, communication preferences and how we can support each other. We share these at our team meetings so that we can learn and support each other.

Now, let’s look at what individuals can do to embrace vulnerability in the workplace. 

How to apply open-ness and vulnerability within your team


1 – Acknowledge your own feelings and practice sharing them.
 

 Share how you’re feeling with your team, be human and share failures as well as successes. Remembering that vulnerability isn’t about oversharing or making others uncomfortable—but about sharing with the end goal of creating stronger relationships with your colleagues. 

2 – Ask questions that spark a deeper conversation. 

After you’ve shared how you’re feeling, dedicate time to discuss and get a pulse check on what they need going forward. Be sure to ask the right kind of questions, questions that encourage the responder to be vulnerable, these questions might include: how are you coping with __? What can I do to support you? Is your workload influencing this? 

3 – Make changes based on what you’re hearing. 

Listening is the first step to re-engaging your team. To build trust, employees need to know that you’ve heard their concerns and that you’re taking action or noting how they feel. For example, if a teammate expresses frustration about their workload, follow up with them on tweaks you’re making as a result. And of course, be honest about the things you can’t change. Clear communication will help prevent your colleagues from feeling frustrated when you can’t deliver. 

Summary 

Building an open and inclusive culture within the workplace will never be an immediate win, more of a team journey to evolve over time. With the definition of vulnerability in mind, it brings the opportunity for progress over perfection, and that welcomes everyone to work together to reach their potential.

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Written By    Energise

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