Unpacking vulnerability at work: A conversation with MeaningSphere Guide Mita Broca
This month we’re talking all things vulnerability at work. MeaningSphere Guide and Meaning Circle host Mita Broca takes us through what practicing vulnerability at work looks like and shares some tips.
Ali Boston: How would you describe vulnerability? How does it show up at work?
Mita Broca: I think vulnerability really means being open and honest. Firstly to ourselves and then to others. We have to be okay with accepting everything that we are. It takes courage to not think about the consequences of demonstrating vulnerability at work and be okay with being yourself. It also means getting comfortable with not knowing everything. At work, there's often so much pressure to be good at what you're doing. And so being vulnerable means being okay with not knowing the answers all the time. It means asking questions and seeking out help if you need it, or asking for feedback.
Ali: Practicing vulnerability at work isn’t easy, right? What does it take to demonstrate vulnerability in the workplace?
Mita: It takes a lot because there are so many unsaid rules and expectations that we grow up with that make it difficult for us to let our guard down at work. We tend to be very hard on ourselves. And so it takes a lot of bravery and courage to be vulnerable at work and to just embrace the fact that it's okay to be you. It's okay. People will judge you but that's not in your hands. You just have to focus on being comfortable with who you are.
Organizations don’t always help. Traditional organizations might view being vulnerable as being weak. Personally speaking, I used to really strive to be perfect at everything. And I was very conscious of how people would view me. I tried to mask all of my weaknesses and tried to fit in. Because I feel like I've always been surrounded by people who are smarter than me, there's always that fear of “I'm not as good or I'm not enough.” And so it takes a lot to work on yourself to be able to be vulnerable. You have to have the willingness and the courage to be open. But you can't do it alone. You have to have the right environment. You have to feel safe enough to be able to do that. Brené Brown says vulnerability is not about winning or losing. It's about having the courage to show up and be seen. And that's actually where you start growing in the process. Because you're being true to yourself and you're aware of your weaknesses. You're out there and you're open to feedback. It’s of course easier to say than to actually do it. But I think I've just about started doing that and being comfortable and it's liberating.
Ali: How does demonstrating vulnerability make a difference at work? How does it help improve your experience of the workplace?
Mita: I think it can be extremely beneficial both for the individual and for the organization. And if you have individuals who are thriving then the organization will thrive as well. When you start embracing vulnerability, that's your starting point for learning and growing. Because you're open to feedback, you're open to learning and you're like a sponge for new insights. So I think it's important for your individual growth journey and also it better equips you to handle things that don't go the way you want them to. And if you're okay with making mistakes, then you're better equipped to manage all those kinds of setbacks. You start building confidence in your own abilities and you have a different view of yourself. And I can see that in myself right now. I mean, I don't spend so much energy now on thinking about what others think of me because I'm just so focused on being at peace with myself. So it's good for your overall well being and for the organization.
If you have built trust with your co-workers through vulnerability, you can have more honest, transparent conversations. There are no hidden agendas. Vulnerability is also an important ingredient for truly building an inclusive and diverse workplace. Because when we talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it doesn't mean anything if we don't accept the person for who they are. Ali: Are there certain conditions that need to be in place to be able to be vulnerable at work?
Mita: To me, psychological safety is essential. You should have a safe space where you can feel confident among your peers or your team or have some kind of a forum where you’re able to be open about your feelings. You need to have a culture that enables its employees to feel able to be vulnerable, and able to take risks. You have to start from the top and have your leaders be okay with showing their vulnerable sides. Having those role models – that's important. And the other condition is embracing diversity in the true sense. So many companies are global now, working across time zones and geographies – and people are so different. They have different starting points. They have different challenges. They have different backgrounds. That’s where the richness comes into the organization. And so we should encourage individuality and make space for it to show up instead of making people abide by certain ways of being.
Ali: So are there any tools that people can use to help them practice vulnerability at work?
Mita: Creating space for reflection can be a really great place to start. Often we’re so busy doing our work that we don’t allow time for ourselves to reflect on what our needs are. There are different tools or methods that can help with this. For example, at MeaningSphere, we offer a form of organized reflection time called Meaning Circles, which are small group, virtual sessions where participants get the chance to reflect together on different topics related to meaningful work.
Scheduling regular check-in sessions with colleagues for feedback can also be a way to practice vulnerability. Asking for feedback can feel very uncomfortable, but it can help build that self-awareness and growth mindset that is part of vulnerability.
Finally, mentoring or coaching can be a useful tool to better understand yourself and start getting to grips with how you can practice vulnerability. They can also help us be more disciplined – sometimes we just need a little nudge to reflect properly. Ali: Tell me more about Meaning Circles.
Mita: At a Meaning Circle, we meet with strangers in a small, intimate group of about eight to ten people and we talk about topics that are related to meaningful work. You sign up in advance and so it helps you carve out that intentional space for reflection about your work experiences. There’s something very cathartic about talking to people who you don’t know and then realizing you have shared experiences, because people are often dealing with similar issues, but perhaps in different ways. So there's a lot to learn from others’ experiences.
Ali: It sounds like it perhaps takes a bit of vulnerability in practice to show up?
Mita: Yes, of course, but I’d say just come with an open mind. It’s also perfectly fine to come to a Meaning Circle and just listen. Because there's so much you can even learn by listening to others and doing some silent self-reflection – you don't have to feel the pressure of saying something. A Meaning Circle is really a place where you don't know anybody and so in a way, you can be your true self – don’t have to put on any kind of persona that you might have to at work.
Ali: I’m wondering, is vulnerability always a good thing?
Mita: There definitely can be a limit to our capacity for vulnerability. It can be exhausting and sometimes we do need to put boundaries in place. Some situations might not be safe to practice vulnerability. So it’s also about learning when as well as how to practice vulnerability. The key is in recognizing that vulnerability can be a powerful tool for personal growth and building meaningful connections, but it must be practiced in a manner that feels authentic, and in a way that aligns with our values and the context in which we find ourselves.
Carve out some time to reflect on your work and join Mita at the next Meaning Circle coming up at 08:00 ET/13:00 GMT on 8 November, where she’ll be leading the group through a reflection on vulnerability at work.
Mita Broca is a sustainability enthusiast living in Oslo, alongside her husband and two year old son. Formerly a corporate sustainability and innovation consultant, she helped global businesses build inclusive growth models and purpose-driven cultures. Now, she supports individuals on their personal growth journeys, convinced that individuals are the most powerful catalysts for positive change. Mita’s own journey of growth evolves daily, largely thanks to her wise little toddler! At MeaningSphere, she is currently supporting the design and delivery of Meaning Circles.
Ali Boston writes about the worlds of work and technology (fictional and non-fictional). She works on projects that help realize an inclusive and sustainable future of work.
Photo credit: Unsplash