Vulnerability in the Workplace: a Must vs. a Maybe

During our GO BIG team meeting this week, questions were posed to the group. What is the pulse in the room? Where are folks at in terms of this work and how individuals were feeling about the commitment to shifting our workplace culture for the better? HOW were we going to do differently and WHAT exactly does that look like?

Many voices spoke out, and there were clear themes that arose:

  • It is about the relationships that we have with one another. How are we truly cultivating an environment where people go beyond handing out tasks and being closed off?
  • It is about showing empathy. We are whole, complex human beings that have lives outside of work. Often times our responsibilities and life circumstances outside of work can have an impact on how we show up. Demonstrating empathy for a person when times are tough builds trust and care.
  • In order to be brave, we must be vulnerable. Speaking up to tell one’s story of struggle in the workplace is by no means an easy task. Our GO BIG team exemplified what a supportive community looks like when some team members shared how they felt unheard and unrecognized. We continue to reflect on the bravery and vulnerability that was shared in those moments–that actually changed our team culture for the better.

Our GO BIG meeting reminded me of Brene Brown’s research regarding the importance of vulnerability and courage as it relates to shame. Brown defines vulnerability as “…uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” along with “…engagement, passion, and a willingness to ‘fail big.'” Moreover, Brown argues that “I’ve never been in a business that would be able to serve its mission and reach its goals without relationship, and vulnerability is the glue the binds relationships together.”

Here are 3 ways to demonstrate vulnerability in the workplace:

  1. Show up and be SEEN. Ask your team for honest feedback about perceptions they may have of you.
  2. Be truly open to hearing the feedback. While you may initially disagree, take a step back and try to understand how these perceptions may affect the workplace environment and culture. A staff member that shares their feedback is showing courage to have this conversation with you.
  3. Thank people for their vulnerability. Recognize that people bring their whole selves to work. It’s all of our responsibility to create a supportive environment where individuals feel heard and that they matter.

To learn more about Brene Brown and her research, watch her Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability. Pay particular attention at minutes 14:12 to the end of the video as she explains what choices and qualities “whole-hearted” people have in common, along with why most people struggle with vulnerability. 



  1. Steve Sutton · July 30, 2015

    I have seen this Ted Talk several times, and it never gets old for me!


  2. Don L. MacGregor · July 31, 2015

    In “Terms of Engagement” Axelrod describes the necessity of manager/supervisors and employees having one on one, intentional conversations about work and personal issues. These conversations feature good listening and sincere exchange of thoughts on the issues. Axelrod describes the importance of the boss taking the lead for sharing a vulnerable “moment” with each staff person.


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