Do some word association with me right now: what comes to mind when you hear “vulnerability?” You probably don’t associate it with strength, right? In reality, you probably tie it to the opposite.
But what if the concept of “vulnerability” is, in fact, strong for people?
It well might be.
This is an awesome article about vulnerability — featuring a cool story about DARPA and the release of red balloons that I suggest you read — and this part pops out:
We think about trust and vulnerability the way we think about standing on solid ground and leaping into the unknown. First we build trust, then we leap. But science is showing we’ve got it backward. Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust — it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.
Think on that: vulnerability precedes trust. When we leap into the unknown alongside others, solid ground appears.
I feel like this is actually somewhat normative and commonplace at work, although we don’t love to admit it. When you’re on a team where people are open and honest and show vulnerabilities (“Hey, I’m nervous about this project”), it fosters much more of a sense of team, community, context, and collaboration.
When you’re on a team with a bunch of box-checking, bell-ringing assholes, all you want to do is plunge your head into the toilet every morning at 10:01am. “Where is the deliverable? Why is it not in Asana?”
Human beings are human beings. We are people. (Is this breaking news?) We are social animals. To thrive, we need respect and context and humanity and conversation and gratitude and friends. Communication — almost always a train wreck at every job you’ll ever hold — needs to be transparent and real; instead it’s usually within platforms and over email, even though face-to-face communication is 34x more effective.
In this way, vulnerability should be a strength — and could drive more effective work.
Unfortunately, though, work is so much about power and control and “owning” certain things that, in most offices, any display of vulnerability would automatically make you a lesser tier or even “the bitch” of a certain team.
Isn’t that pretty messed up?
Vulnerability underscores the entire human condition.
But showing it at work gets your neck snapped.
That doesn’t feel rational.
Maybe that’s why only 15% of people globally report liking their job.
What if we just designed work in a more “human” way, where respect, transparency, the ability to be vulnerable, the chance to show your emotions … what if those things were normative and we screeched less about KPIs, ROI, and CAGR?
You might say: “Well, that’s not a business. That’s a therapy session.”
OK, OK. I see that.
But what if there’s a place somewhere in the middle?
What if 12-hour days of running from task to task could become 8/9-hour days?
And what if those days could have some context, communication, conversation, and real emotion to them?
This seems like it would be doable, and profits could still be had.
It’s just not how most people conceptualize “work,” unfortunately.
But vulnerability — try it once. Show it at work. You might get stepped on. Or it might make your current project team more effective than ever.