Wisdom//

Why Being Your True Self at Work Is the Best Strategy Ever

The key is knowing how and when to practice vulnerability.

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

Revealing all of your personal cards at work may seem like a bad idea. If you’re like many people, you probably think of vulnerability and inner strength as diametrically opposed concepts. This misconception comes from the notion that asking for help or admitting you don’t have an answer constitutes weakness.

In reality, being able to show yourself “warts and all” can elicit extremely positive reactions from your colleagues, including bosses and employees. The key is knowing how and when to practice vulnerability.

In many workplace situations, being willing to show your authentic self can become a springboard for innovation, change, and collaboration. It can also lead to unexpected self-discoveries and open doors to new opportunities and personal development. Perhaps that’s why Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Solomon urges his executive team to be more authentic by sharing their outside interests with one another. He should know why this can be a great idea: Solomon has been a disc jockey for years, and his unusual hobby has fueled connections he might have otherwise never made.

Of course, it can be challenging to put yourself “out there,” especially if the result is a difficult conversation. That’s why practice is important, especially for people who are unaccustomed to reaching out to others for assistance or ideas. Keep in mind the phrase Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers chose as the title of a self-written piece: “Everyone is going through something.” In the article, Love recounts how had a panic attack in the middle of a game. Instead of hiding his experience, he shared it in the hope his vulnerability could persuade others to stop burying their true selves.

Love’s words may resonate with professionals at all levels, but that doesn’t mean they will instantly take up the vulnerability ball. Leaders can be hard-pressed to put themselves in potentially embarrassing circumstances, and more junior employees don’t want their managers to think they’re not up to the task. Yet being upfront and genuine is a good way to make greater strides at work. After all, it takes tons of confidence to take a deep breath and say, “I am not able to solve this problem on my own, and I need advice.”

Becoming BFFs with your vulnerable side

Are you just coming to terms with the benefits of showing your vulnerability on the job? Start your journey by practicing these behaviors.

1. Ask for help when you need it.

Does the thought of going to your boss with a personal dilemma leave you in a cold sweat? You may have fallen prey to the belief that you must always be OK — even if that means pretending. Many employees don’t realize that not only are today’s workplaces open to helping workers with struggles, but they have programs in place to tackle tough issues. For example, Accenture offers an employee assistance program, recognizing that an emotionally healthy team will perform better. Employers are offering other helpful programs, too, including smoking cessation workshops, fitness competitions, and even nap rooms.

Kristen Przano, who holds a top spot at Capital One Garage Innovation Center, talked about her own struggles with vulnerability during SXSW. Przano recalled how, several months after the birth of her son, she realized she was in the grip of postpartum depression. When she finally mustered the inner strength to tell her supervisor, Przano was heartened by how welcoming her boss was. Turns out the boss had gone through something similar. Their talk forged a bond that cemented their mutual respect. Plus, Przano got the help she required to get her through her challenging time.

2. See failure as a stepping-stone.

When you fail at something, look at it objectively instead of sulking. Failure is a chance to adapt, learn, pivot, and reflect, not a time to dwell endlessly. Looking at the positives, such as what you should do next or how you can avoid the same failure again, will help you bounce back from the situation. It will also enable you to talk about the experience. Doing so will show your humanness and perhaps give others insights.

Furthermore, you might come up with imaginative solutions for moving forward. Kerry Goyette, president of Aperio Consulting Group, has trained herself to stop thinking about the “what-ifs” and failures of life. As she writes, “Today, instead of shutting down an opportunity that puts me in a vulnerable situation, I ask myself: ‘Does this give me an opportunity to grow? So what if I fail?’” She reflects on the lessons she could take away from the opportunity, adding that there are always quite a few. Take a cue from Goyette and devise your own strategy for making yourself feel more comfortable taking risks.

3. Admit you are not omniscient.

No doubt you would love to have all the answers. Who wouldn’t? Fact is, you don’t. No human does. The sooner you come to grips with that reality, the sooner you can start to seek out information to fill in your gaps. Root Inc. CEO Jim Haudan feels so strongly about sussing out his weaknesses that he asked the people under him to send organizational questions for him to answer. When he received questions that stretched his knowledge, he invited others to share their thoughts and ideas. It was a key move that paid off, even though he had to be vulnerable to make it work.

While you don’t have to imitate Haudan’s actions, you shouldn’t be wary of telling people around you that you lack knowledge on a specific topic. After all, pretending that you know more than you do can backfire big-time. Why put yourself in a much more embarrassing situation down the road by lying? Simply say you need to research the answer to an inquiry. It’s much less stressful and more ethical in the long run, even if admitting that you don’t have an immediate answer makes you feel uncomfortable at first. 

We all deserve to be authentic throughout the day, including when we’re at work. Embracing vulnerability can get you closer to living a life that’s 100% genuine. It can also bring you far greater satisfaction than hiding behind a shield of duplicity.

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