Vulnerability and Shame in the Workplace
By Karen Ballum on September 27, 2012
As we've discussed, feeling vulnerable is hard and frequently scary. The vulnerability hangover? It sucks. When I was reading Daring Greatly I was very wary of what Brene Brown was going to say about vulnerability in the workplace. It's a mixed bag for me. There are workplace environments where I've felt pretty darned comfortable with vulnerability and others where I avoided it like the plague. To my surprise, I found myself nodding right along with a lot of what Brown had to say about being vulnerable at work.
"To reignite creativity, innovation, and learning, leaders much rehumanize eduation and work. This means understanding how scarcity is affecting the way we lead and work, learning how to engage with vulnerability, and recognizing and combating shame." page 183
I think that being vulnerable at work can be a very valuable thing. The caveat is that you have to work in environment that is comfortable with vulnerability. I've worked in environments that have embraced this and ones that have not. The levels of vulnerability that I'm willing to expose are different in those environments.
One thing that I am pretty much always comfortable doing is asking what someone else may consider to be a stupid question. In one of my first post-college jobs, I worked with some people who didn't really understand my role and what I did. Since they didn't understand what I did or how I did it, they were rather inclined to think that any questions I asked were stupid. I could have bought into that belief but I luckily I had more faith in my intellect and my ability to do my job than they did. I asked my questions not really caring if they thought they were stupid and most of the time they really weren't stupid questions. Sure, every now and then I tossed out a real doozy of a question, but many of those potentially stupid questions saved my butt. Sometimes they saved my boss's butt. Sometimes they saved my company's butt. Stupid questions for the win!
But not every workplace has encouraged that kind of engagement. In the employment section of Daring Greatly, Brown tackles the seemingly common problem of lack of useable feedback. I've worked in places that were quick with the shame and blame or that hoarded any misstep you may have taken over the year and that would be be the only thing you received feedback on. Recently we featured a parenting post by Lynn about how she was tired of people judging her one percent:
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m a perfectly cheerful, friendly human being.
One percent of the time, I’m bitchy.
I feel like I’m always being judged on that one percent. All the good things I do count for nothing compared to the bad. No amount of tender loving care erases the moments of weakness."
I've felt that same general principle at work in employment scenarios. I've worked in places where you can ask 99 great things but get penalized for the one supposedly stupid question or result. Yes, sure, if that one percent is completely egregious I get it, but most of the time it's not. I really love feedback but I want to get feedback on everything, not just that one percent. If my workplace has a "one percent" environment, it's not one where I am going to be comfortable being vulnerable. Blame and shame don't work for me.
Have you been vulnerable at work? Have you worked in a "one percent" environment?
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