Building Workplace Belonging with Vulnerability and Empathy
by Sam Levine
Vulnerability requires you to open up, be authentic, and embrace uncertainty, which is why it can be difficult to do.
It takes courage to be willing to fully engage and be seen in moments of risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure. It’s also important to note that vulnerability looks different for everyone, which can be especially true for people who come from different backgrounds and levels of privilege.
The Vulnerability Spectrum
At Hone, we think about vulnerability as a continuum with three categories: “over-boundaried,” “authentic vulnerability,” and “oversharing.”
When someone is over-boundaried, they come off as guarded, distant, or withholding information. This makes it hard for people to connect with their experience or fully understand the gravity of their situation.
This is your sharing sweet spot. This is when you share just enough detail and personal emotion so that others can understand what you went through and connect with you.
Sharing too many extraneous details that can make our experiences and feelings murky and difficult to decipher. Oversharing makes it harder for others to connect with you, which can hinder your ability to have a 2-way discussion about your experience.
Empathy is our ability to understand the feelings of another individual and to nonjudgmentally see the world as they see it. One study named empathy the top skill good leaders possess and one of the three strongest predictors of senior executive effectiveness.
Using Vulnerability and Empathy to Build a Culture of Belonging
Stories are particularly powerful tools. When it comes to building empathy on a team, stories allow people to share their own experiences and to learn from others. As a manager, when you provide a safe space where everyone has the opportunity to use their voice and be heard, you create an environment of trust and belonging.
How Managers Can Facilitate Open and Candid Conversations
To help you understand how to facilitate these open conversations on your team, take a moment to recall a time in your life when you felt like you did not belong.
1. What was that experience like? 2. How did others behave? 3. How did you behave? 4. How did it make you feel? 5. What was the immediate and longer-term impact that it had on you?
Once a moment has come to mind, reflect on it, and answer the following questions:
Make a commitment to yourself, your colleagues, your employees, your team, and your company to do better: to change and to make lasting improvements to your culture, together. Only then can you use vulnerability and empathy to build a workplace culture of belonging.