Can you dare to be vulnerable in the workplace?

Relationships are the stuff of life. Connecting and communicating with others is a fundamental part of our existence. Take a moment to consider the quality of your relationships:

  • Do you sometimes feel that there is a home-you and a work-you?
  • Do you admit you’re wrong and take responsibility for your actions?
  • Do you give your honest feedback to a team member, from the heart?
  • Do you allow yourself to be seen, the real you, not an image of you?
  • How do you respond when your colleague has stuffed up?
  • Can you dare to be vulnerable?

Your answers to these questions with provide some insight into the level of ‘human-ness’ and vulnerability in your work environment.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” … Brené Brown*

– so why do we judge it in the workplace?

The power of vulnerability in the workplace

Vulnerability is the basis of authentic and trusting relationships, and yet in the workplace, vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness and admitting to your mistakes is a sure way of limiting your career prospects.

Leaders and managers often feel that they have to maintain their authority, strength and professionalism at all times. There is a fear that admitting to one’s mistakes is a sign of incompetence. This also sets the tone for the team or the organisation and employees fear the consequences of reprisal for their incompetence. This type of environment leads to playing the blame-game, backstabbing and disconnection resulting in dysfunctional teams.

Instead, vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage and strength and brings about a greater sense of connection and engagement within teams and the organisation. Connection, trust and teamwork are the cornerstone of all organisations and are usually entrenched in the vision and mission. However, this requires a culture which embraces failure as part of the creative process and encourage vulnerability at all levels of the organisation.

Which organisation do you work in?

What vulnerability looks like in the workplace

1 – Speak from the heart

Speak from the heart not your head. When you speak from the heart your words are true and they are heard as the truth. Speaking from the head is just telling a story and comes across as being insincere. Speaking authentically from the heart is the true meaning of vulnerability. Owning up to one’s mistakes is only one side of the vulnerability coin, the other side is authenticity.


2 – Apologise, be open and honest

Be honest about your mistakes. It takes courage and there is an element of emotional risk and uncertainty, but it opens the door for everyone around you to be open and honest too. It builds greater connection and trust within a team.


3 – Own your actions and opinions!

Be accountable for your actions – no excuses! It doesn’t matter what should have happened, deal with what is. Trying to find someone to blame is just a waste of energy and certainly doesn’t help with a solution. Be accountable for your opinions – saying what you really think isn’t easy, but if it is delivered with an open heart, without anger or malice it is usually the best way to build trust.


4 – Let go of the idea that you have to be ‘perfect’

There is no such thing as ‘perfect’ and a well-engineered corporate image is exactly that – an image and not the real thing. People want a relationship with a real person. Face your fear of being anything less than perfect – you’re human – everyone already knows you’re not perfect! So who are you kidding?


5 – Don’t beat yourself up - Let go

One of the biggest barriers to openness and vulnerability is self-judgement. We judge ourselves far more than anyone else judges us. In fact, we often hang onto that judgement for a very long time – sometimes even a lifetime! Don’t turn your guilt over a mistake into a personal sense of shame that impacts your future actions. Even if you realised that could have done things differently. It is easy to judge in hindsight, but repeat a set of circumstances and knowledge at a given moment and most people would repeat their action. Let it go and move on!


As Brené Brown put it: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”. Many organisations have innovation and creativity in their vision, values or strategic direction and yet they do not embrace vulnerability. Do you feel comfortable being vulnerable in your workplace? Do you feel you have ‘degrees of openness’ depending on the situation?


I facilitate programs that promote team connectedness and collaboration within organisations. Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more about strategies to improve teamwork and performance –


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*Brené Brown, Ph.D. is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.