Want A Breakthrough In Your Career? Be Vulnerable In The Office First

Having that human connection with your team members isn’t just for touchy-feely self-esteem purposes—it actually boosts your performance at work.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Having that human connection with your team members isn’t just for touchy-feely self-esteem purposes—it actually boosts your performance at work.

Yes, we know—it sounds a little counterintuitive to show vulnerability in the workplace. After all, aren’t you supposed to project how you’ve got your sh*t together in order to get that next promotion? 

To clear things up: being vulnerable =/= showing weakness. Instead, it’s about being comfortable and brave enough to be open and honest in a professional setting without the fear of being “punished” in the form of a bad appraisal or reprimand from your boss. 

The result: you’ll learn from your mistakes rather than try to hide them. And on the personal front, letting your co-workers know when you’re going through a tough time can be the difference between getting no support at work to getting help in terms of managing your workload and deadlines. 

And on top of it all, your team ends up with more creative and innovative solutions because people won’t be afraid of sharing their ideas. 

Say your grandmother is in the hospital fighting a serious illness, or you’ve made a huge mistake at work. Would you talk to your colleagues or your boss about it? 

If your answer is ‘yes’, then congratulations—you’ve hit the jackpot with a workplace that fosters a culture of vulnerability. According to a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review, those who trust their co-workers enough to be open with them are reported to be 40 percent more likely to enjoy their work than those who don’t.

Also, the chances of you experiencing burnout are lessened by 60 percent. You’re also likely to be 50 percent more productive.

Vulnerability starts with a boss you can trust

A leader defines the team culture, says Olivia Coléon, cultural specialist and founder of Naked Nights, an event series that celebrates vulnerability. She says leaders must be willing to hear their team members out and ask for help when they need it to set an example for the rest of the team.

Cindy Leong, personality coach and corporate trainer at Relationship Studio, chose to have an open communication policy at her company because she had experienced what it was like to “keep things professional”. “At the previous company I worked, we were told to ‘behave like adults’,” she explains. “This meant a culture where the boss was always right, and there was no room for open discussion.”

Cindy could not share her feedback honestly back then, and this caused her to be miserable. She says as an employee in her position, you either need to have the support of your peers to push for better communication, or leave and find a company that has an existing culture of vulnerability.


If you’re the manager, the good news is you can do something to improve communication within your team. Here’s how Cindy made it work:

1 Pick people who are willing to be vulnerable

“When someone comes for a job interview at our company, they are immediately introduced to our culture. We say we believe in personal development, open communication and talking it out rather than keeping it in,” says Cindy. “And if they don’t believe in this, they won’t join us.”

2 Use the right words and tone

That means that whenever there is a disagreement, refrain from making your team members feel attacked. Instead, remain objective and focus on the problem. “I believe in direct, vulnerable, authentic and encouraging language that promotes growth,” Cindy says.

3 Check in regularly

Cindy has weekly team meetings where her staff shares about their victories and struggles at work, as well as in their own personal lives. Through these meetings, her team feels a closer social connection and loyalty to her and to each other. She’s also better able to support their needs.

4 Encourage counselling or coaching for personal growth

Not everything can be solved simply by hashing it out in a meeting room. “Some problems stem from deep-seated personal insecurities, in which case I send my staff for private coaching to work on them,” Cindy says. This is an opportunity for personal and professional development.

5 Know what to share… and not share

It may be helpful for your boss to know you’re going through a bad breakup, because then she knows why you’re more distracted or tired than usual. But does she really need to know the gory details? Probably not… 

Of course, it’s up to each employee to determine what their boundaries are, adds Olivia. But if you’re a manager, letting your staff know they can talk to you about anything is absolutely crucial to building trust.

The writer of this piece has a podcast called Some Scuffs, which explores how we navigate our social world here in Singapore, where stress and anxiety run high but the potential for authentic human connection is also immense. Check it out at somescuffs.com

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