The stoic, stiff-upper-lip generation gave us really bad advice when they taught us never to show weakness. Unfortunately, some of the huggy-lovey people talking about “authenticity” today are giving equally bad advice. Time for some balance!
In this three-part series I will explore the role vulnerability plays in team effectiveness. Today, I’ll start with the risks of showing too little vulnerability. The second post will focus on what happens when you appear too vulnerable. In the final post, I’ll share some examples of how the right expressions of vulnerability can bolster trust and enhance team relationships.
Vulnerability is natural. Letting yourself appear vulnerable can humanize you and help you bond with your teammates.
In an excellent interview with HBR, neuroeconomist Paul Zak explains how demonstrating that you trust someone causes both of your brains to release the powerful neurotransmitter oxytocin. That oxytocin increases the bond between you.
Being vulnerable in front of your teammates is a very clear way to show you trust them. Unfortunately, many people take the opposite approach. Rather than admitting when they are stuck, or worried, or frustrated, they try to maintain the image that everything is fine—that they are in control.
If you are trying to preserve a false sense of invulnerability, you are missing a very important opportunity to convert team members into allies. In extreme cases, you’re probably turning them against you. They will be waiting and hoping for you to fail.
Are you a Teflon Man/Woman?
- Do you deflect the accountability for every project that goes south onto others?
- Do you have an answer for everything?
- Do you repress natural reactions (e.g., disappointment, concern, frustration) when things aren’t going well?
- Do you clam up when emotion (positive or negative) might cause you to say something really authentic?
If so, start small. Find one opportunity to open up to members of your team about what worries you. See how they react. You’ll be surprised how occasionally admitting vulnerability makes you seem stronger.