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Vulnerability at Work: How Much is Too Much?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 - Joe Kiedinger

Vulnerability in the workplace is a 21st century skill get after. Revealing bits and pieces of our personal story to those we work with boosts trust and strengthens teams. But it’s also easy to go a bit too far and reveal too much.

You may have heard this famous quote by research professor, lecturer and author, Brene Brown: “Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.” In her book, Daring Greatly, she continues to explain:

“Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust… Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process… We don’t bare our souls the first time we meet someone. We don’t lead with ‘Hi, my name is Brené, and here’s my darkest struggle…’ Sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story. The result of this mutually respectful vulnerability is increased connection, trust, and engagement.”

In my work, I have “Story Day” with many leaders as we begin to develop their Personal Purpose to share with their team. It’s an honor to hear people become vulnerable with me, to say things like, “I’ve never told anyone this.” Together, we decide what parts of that story they should share when they present their Personal Purpose to their team.

I give them this analogy that may help you set a boundary around how much vulnerability you’d like to share at work.

My family lives in the Midwest and when it gets hot out, we like to venture over to Lake Michigan and cool off. Now, if you’ve ever stepped into Lake Michigan, you know it’s a bit shocking at first. The water’s so cold that you can barely put your feet in. But if you stand there awhile, enjoy a drink and talk with a friend, before you know it you can walk a little further in and it’s not so shocking. Maybe you get up to your calves. But, once you hit mid-thigh it’s probably as far as you’re willing to go in.

Look at your own personal story this way. What pieces of your past can you share with your team that may be a bit uncomfortable to mention at first, without divulging your deepest hurts and regrets? Those should be reserved for those closest to us (a spouse, a best friend).

In my next Wisdom on Wednesday, we’ll dig even deeper with some practical ways to get started with vulnerability at work.

JOE KIEDINGER

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