Being Vulnerable At Work Is Good For Our Mental Health

Vulnerable at work - kid dressed up in a pink and yellow superhero costume

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

The reason we don’t like to feel vulnerable is that we don’t want to expose ourselves to potential criticism. Let’s face it, what we really want is to feel valued, acknowledged, appreciated.  This type of positive nurturing reinforces our self-worth.  That’s probably why our Facebook posts are a collection of the best parts of our lives and the best snapshots of ourselves.

But that’s not who we really are – at least not all the time.  Not even most of the time.   Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable means acknowledging the fact that we are not always going to be liked and appreciated by others.  Knowing this and feeling OK with it makes us stronger, more resilient.  It’s only then, when we let our guard down, that we might discover that others do accept us that way.  Besides, they too then have the ‘permission’ to be vulnerable and can be accepted for who they are without pretence.   Knowing that we can be liked when we’re not perfect makes us feel an even stronger sense of belonging and appreciation.

Being vulnerable encourages a more nurturing environment.

So by being vulnerable, not only are we encouraging others to be themselves, we’re also developing a more nurturing environment around us.  An environment that:

  • builds trust by allowing us not to be fearful of showing our true colours,
  • encourages collaboration and cohesion by building deeper, more meaningful bonds between colleagues,
  • eliminates the fear of making mistakes and encourages learning,
  • promotes respect for each other as human beings and helps us speak up, be more honest and less political, and
  • develops psychologically safe teams by knowing that we won’t suffer negative consequences having shared unpopular views or spoken out of turn.

Being vulnerable reduces emotional tax.

If we are allowed to be vulnerable, we can reduce the emotional tax we pay when we have to hide behind a mask, to cover up who we really are in an effort to blend into a culture that isn’t authentic to who we are deep down.  And that has got to be good for our mental health.

Of course, being vulnerable at work takes courage.  Especially in teams that don’t encourage vulnerability.  But, like a virtuous circle, being courageous can pay off.  And when it does, it pays dividends.  It makes us more emotionally resilient.  It makes us more confident in who we are as a person – warts and all.  It makes it easier to say what’s on our mind, without fear of retribution.  Above all, it makes it easier for others to find that courage within themselves.

In the context of Inclusion, being vulnerable invites others to bring their whole self to the table.  In this way, the entire team benefits from each person’s talents and experiences.  We become more creative, better at solving complex problems and develop deeper empathy and understanding of colleagues and clients.

With all that we stand to gain from being vulnerable, isn’t it worth trying to take the plunge and find that inner courage?  I think so!