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The Benefits of Practicing Vulnerability in the Office

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People don’t usually think of the workplace as an environment for demonstrating vulnerability. Instead, they often see a place of business as where they go to perform a role.

Whether you’re the CEO of a new startup or a solopreneur who just took on her first client, your focus undoubtedly has been largely on appearing professional. While professionalism is a necessary part of business, some surprising benefits result from leaders' allowing vulnerability to enter the workplace. 

Related: Empathy in Business Is Vital to an Entrepreneur's Success

1. Fostering innovation.

As it turns out, vulnerability is about a lot more than workers becoming emotional. In the workplace, employees display vulnerability every time they bring up a new idea at a meeting or challenge an old way of thinking.

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, trust and engagement," said researcher and University of Houston professor Brené Brown, who has made a career out of studying vulnerability, shame and courage.

If you want your employees to feel safe enough to float a new, potentially risky idea, create an environment where people can do that without ridicule (even if the concept doesn’t end up panning out).

2. Improving motivation.

Sometimes personal challenges follow employees to work, leaving them distracted and unmotivated. Creating a practice in the office of openly supporting one another on a human level will let an employee quickly review a challenging personal matter and then put it aside so she can return to the work task at hand.

Andrea Owen, a life coach in Greensboro, N.C., who specifically works with clients so they can practice more vulnerability, says via email this process can be as simple as showing empathy. Try her suggestion of saying, “I'm so sorry you're going through that. It sounds really difficult and frustrating. What can I do to help you?” Then follow it by listening. Just taking 10 minutes to help a co-worker vent frustration or get something off her chest can be helpful.

Related: The Esquire Guy on Handling Tears at Work

3. Boosting teamwork.

Demonstrating empathy isn’t just about helping an employee going through a rough patch so he can better focus on work. When people experience the empathy of others on tough days, they are more likely to work well in teams. It also makes the experience of going to work and bonding with co-workers more fun.

4. Promoting identification with leadership.

Leaders and CEOs often find themselves in the unenviable position of communicating bad news, such as failed profit projections or potential layoffs. When company leaders practice vulnerability, sharing their disappointment about bad news or their passion and excitement for a company’s new direction, then employees can better identify with the leadership.

When employees see a leader who relays only the bare bones of company happenings and then merely delegates more work their way, it’s harder for them to understand everything that the boss is up against. This can mean grumbling about management may arise when unpopular decisions are made. 

Let your employees and co-workers in. Allow them to witness everything from your passion for the products and services the company offers to the challenges that you wrestle with while making decisions about how to spur the organization's growth.

Creating a company culture that supports true connection among all team members means that people are more likely to take the type of risks that might result in a new hit product. Employees will offer more support during challenges and feel more invested in creating a company that’s not just good but great. 

Related: Dealing With Feelings: How to Be an Emotionally Aware Leader