Vulnerability and its Boundaries — at Work

Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Here are a few ways to have vulnerable conversations in the workplace.
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Tall brick building with sign on the side saying "How are you, really?"

Thanks to Brené Brown, vulnerability has achieved mainstream acceptance. Her TEDx talk 12 years ago broke the barriers to embracing vulnerability as a strength. As a result, leadership and inner-office communications have opened up, welcoming much-needed discussions of mental health and more meaningful connections.

As a corporate communications professional, I look for authentic stories to share from within companies. It’s my job to humanize a company, which means looking to team members and encouraging them to share their stories. As a result, I am frequently a part-time therapist as I learn about their lives. Often leaders are rewarded for expressing their vulnerability, but what about employees who are concerned about the stability of their jobs if they show vulnerability? Where is the boundary on workplace sharing?

My answer is: it depends. I’m all about transparency and living a life of integrity. In fact, I find anything less unacceptable. However, we don’t need full disclosure if sensitivity is required. There’s a solid line between personal and private information.

For example, many individuals post personal things on social media. So if you feel something is worthy of posting on a social platform, it is likely to be personal. Private matters are sometimes made public but don’t have to be. You don’t have to, nor should you, feel compelled to share private things. If you substitute the word “intimate” for “private,” this should clearly illustrate the boundary.

When communicating personal circumstances at work, I suggest speaking with someone you trust and sharing your concerns with that person. With their help, you can work out a game plan.

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  • Make a list. Create your talking points and share them with a friend or someone who loves you and can be objective, and help you work through a role-playing conversation.
  • Give yourself some time to marinate the conversation.
  • Make sure your talking points are honest and authentic. You never need to memorize anything when you share the truth (amazing how that works)!
  • If meeting with a boss or team, set expectations and establish your deliverables within a reasonable time frame for completion. This may need to be fluid, given circumstances, so factor in unpredictability.
  • Be as present as you can be when in the office or in meetings. If you have an off day at work, state this to your team, so they know. These moments of vulnerability help build trust and strengthens relationships.

It is not easy to ask for help. Remember that suffering, which I consider part of a broad trauma spectrum, is universal. No one is spared in this lifetime, and while someone may feel like they are all alone, they aren’t. If you work with someone going through a challenging time, step up and help. This builds up your karma bank, and you never know when it will be you who needs support.

After all, vulnerability is a sign of strength.

Kara Kavensky is a strategic corporate communications & PR expert and an author; her first memoir Finding Joy” will be released later this year.

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