• Scott Hackman

How To Create a Vulnerable Workplace

In recent years, there have been multiple studies that indicate that vulnerability is a success factor in the workplace. Brene Brown, a name frequently associated with vulnerability research, defines it as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Mutual trust is required for teams to work effectively, and vulnerability is the foundation of that trust. Here’s a great perspective that I think is fitting in the work environment:

“Trust is defined as choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another’s actions.” Charles Feltman

While there is much to cover on the value of vulnerability at work, I will focus on how to create a vulnerability workspace and, in turn, encourage more productive teams.

Let team members articulate their feelings

The first step to creating a vulnerable workplace is to change the perspective on feelings. Why? Because vulnerability is the core of all emotions.

For a long time, the consensus in business has been, “Let’s leave feelings out of this.”

I think what people mean when they say it is, “We don’t want to be emotionally reactive at work. Let’s not have emotions drive our thinking.”

In other words, become more like a computer. A person’s human experience is less of a consideration.

If we view emotions and feelings as what they are - data - we can allow valuable insights to rise to the surface. A person could be holding anxiety for the root cause of ongoing issues. If the person doesn’t voice their concern, the root issue won’t be addressed, and the problem won’t be solved.

Vulnerability makes it safe to say, “I feel [frustrated, angry, confused]” about this. It makes it safe for individuals to leave a meeting with uncomfortable feelings, and with the understanding that there are no repercussions for voicing their feelings about an issue.

Allow the feelings to bring problems to the surface, and move toward a solution. Provide opportunity: We don’t all have to agree, but we have to move forward.

Coach employees and coworkers through feelings

Listening, rather than providing solutions, is the key to coaching team members through feelings. Help them process their emotions to move them towards what they want. Ask many questions to determine if they want help figuring out a solution. A great question is to try is: what would it look like to have this issue resolved? What do you need to do to resolve it?

Set norms

Norms are the agreed-upon behaviors you set for a meeting or a workplace. Ask the question: How do we want to practice our work principles? It’s important to communicate that it’s safe to disagree with no repercussions.

Check in to see how you’re doing

Periodically ask your team members, How well did we do with norms? What could I improve? What could you improve?

This indicates that you are committed to open and honest dialogue. Also, it keeps you from getting off course.

How do you practice vulnerability at work? We’d love to hear about it. Please share with us at

More reading on vulnerability at work:

What Bosses Gain By Being Vulnerable

Vulnerability Can Make You More Successful.

The Importance of Being Courageously Vulnerable at Work

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