This exchange between Adam Grant and Brene Brown is really insightful, all by itself, but you should go listen to the whole podcast too.
“Grant: How? I have gotten feedback from people I work with that when there’s something difficult going on in my life, I don’t share much about it. My fear has been that when people know there’s something difficult going on in my life and I didn’t open up about it, they’re going to think that I’m not being honest or authentic with them or that I’m lacking vulnerability. You’re saying there are ways that I can maintain my privacy and still be vulnerable. Tell me more.
Brown: You can say, “I’m really struggling right now. I’ve got some stuff going on and it’s hard, and I wanted y’all to know. And I want you to know what support looks like for me is that I’ll check in with you if I need something or I may take some time off. Support also looks like being able to bring it up with you when it’s helpful for me but not having to field a lot of questions about it. That’s what I need right now.””
One of the real struggles when trying to bring our whole selves to the workplace, including our struggles, is that often, the details don’t need to be widely shared. Sometimes because the details involve other people, or there are things that we don’t feel comfortable sharing, yet we can ask for help and support. This goes for family and friendships too.
The response here is good, instead of sharing every detail in order to meet the standard for “vulnerability”, what we can be vulnerable about is sharing how people can support us.
It has the added benefit of giving people who want to support us, and don’t know how, concrete actions they can take, instead of guessing. Trust me, most people who want to support you, aren’t going to know exactly how. Telling them what you need will be better for them, and for you.
And nothing is as vulnerable as asking for help when you need it. That’s how you are vulnerable at work, and as a leader.