Mike Robbins is an author and sought-after speaker who has spent the past 15 years researching and speaking about essential human experiences in the workplace. In the video below he discusses how being vulnerable at work can bring success:
In this TEDx Talk, Robbins says that to “bring your whole self” to any environment (work, home, etc.) means bringing all parts of yourself. This includes your strengths, weaknesses, passions, dislikes. It includes your heart, soul, insecurities, talents, skills—everything. In other words, he says, be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is a key driver in trust and human connection. When we are vulnerable, we are better able to innovate, change, risk, and grow. And those are exactly the traits necessary for success in life.
Most of us know what vulnerability is, of course. The key distinction, though, is whether we practice vulnerability. And specifically, whether we practice it at work. It is common to be open and vulnerable with close friends and family, but it seems counterintuitive to practice vulnerability at work. We usually think of work as an ultra-professional setting, completely distinct from our personal lives, where we go, do a job, and leave. However, according to Robbins, by allowing ourselves to open up at work we actually become better at that work.
The definition of vulnerability is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally” (source). That definition doesn’t exactly make vulnerability sound pleasant; in fact, it is often considered a type of weakness. That’s why becoming vulnerable—or exposing oneself to the possibility of harm—actually takes a lot of courage. This much is obvious, because being harmed is scary, and doing scary things takes courage. But interestingly, in this talk Robbins quotes Dr. Brenee Brown, who says you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability. Thus, to become vulnerable we need to have courage; but also, to gain courage we must become vulnerable. The two are intertwined, so the more we practice one, the more we will gain of the other.
Being vulnerable doesn’t feel good. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary. Why? Because superficially, we don’t want to look bad and we don’t want people to judge us.
Robbins continues to explore vulnerability on a deeper level, though. He says that vulnerability is difficult because we’ve all experienced pain, disappointment, heartbreak, whether at school, home, or even in our professional lives. When we want things, we become vulnerable simply because we could lose them (or not even get them in the first place).
Yet that vulnerability—that openness to the idea of wanting things—is central to success. If we never strive to better our situations, even at the risk of disappointment or failure, we will never grow and develop. The employees who are able to express their vulnerability at work—their desires, goals, and limits—are much more valuable than the employees who close themselves off to the possibility of growth.
In order for employees to feel comfortable enough for this type of vulnerability, companies foster an environment for it. Robbins says there are two ways to do this:
These two initiatives—setting high expectations and being highly nurturing—should be ongoing. It is not sufficient to have one without the other. Imagine a company who simply set supremely high standards but did not offer a nurturing environment for its employees: it would feel like a prison. Conversely, a nurturing workplace with low (or no) clearly set standards would be confusing and ineffective. Both mentalities must be present at once to foster vulnerability.
These concepts are simple and valuable…but not necessarily easy. Creating an environment for vulnerability can feel risky for companies, too. At the end of the day, most companies must attend to their bottom line, and some might not see the value of investing in this company mentality. However, in Robbins’s experience, the companies that encourage employee vulnerability are most successful in the end, because they have the most innovative and satisfied workers on their teams.
Robbins advises us to ask ourselves where are the places in our lives that we want to take risks? Where are we holding ourselves back? Can we challenge ourselves to step beyond safety and take a risk? You might be amazed at the results if you’re willing to give it a shot.
So what do you think? Do you see any value in becoming more vulnerable at work? Can you envision bringing your whole self to work this week? We want to know!
Camille Fairbanks was born and raised in Arizona and now resides in Lethbridge, AB. She received her BA in English from the University of Lethbridge; she now raises her children and her garden full time, and enjoys writing about minimalism and the Zero Waste lifestyle on her blog, The Non-Waster.