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When To Be Vulnerable At Work

“Crying makes me question your judgment,” said Barbara Corcoran on Shark Tank.

The entrepreneur was sobbing after a harsh dressing-down by “Mr. Wonderful,” Kevin O’Leary.

She’d walked with a pitch for her eyelash-extension business, but the “sharks” weren’t having it.

The problem was that she had misconceived her strength.

It wasn’t in the intellectual property behind the more efficient process she used.

Rather, it was herself, the brand she had developed, the look, the following — in short, the service model behind the business itself.

The truth is a bitter pill to swallow, and as usual Kevin delivered it brutally.

She broke out in tears, and for that Barbara Corcoran chastised her too.

Lori Greiner, the other female “shark,” disagreed with Barbara. She made a show of supporting the contestant’s right to express her vulnerability.

But the truth is that Barbara was right. If you’re a woman, especially, you do not want to cry in front of your boss. In fact there is a very good book with this title. It’s called If You Have To Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You, by PR executive and reality TV star Kelly Cutrone.

This does not mean that you should be a stone, either.

The truth is that some vulnerability at work is not only healthy, but vital.

You need to be able to show your weakness, at times, because, as they say, “stuff happens.” Particularly stuff with other people. They say or do something, and in the absence of understanding why, you come to your own conclusions.

That survival mechanism kicks in, and suddenly you are on the defensive.

It is at this point that many people screw up.

Instead of doing what they should be doing, which is to PAUSE AND REFLECT AND ASK QUESTIONS, they simply act on whatever assumptions are flying around in their heads.

A better approach, if you can, is to write down whatever you are feeling, and then look at it on a piece of paper. What you are doing in that moment, when stress is flowing through your body, is of the ultimate importance. For we, when under attack, react exactly as animals do: fight or flight, we take on the world or we run, because we see ourselves in mortal danger.

It is commonly assumed that people have better coping skills than they do. And so frequently, bad news is delivered on a Friday, “because they can take the weekend to recover.”

In reality what happens is that people take the weekend to ruminate.

As a professional, no matter what level of job you hold, it is so important to develop some way of handling those moments when you are vulnerable at work.

As a general rule, you should never react instantaneously. You know that.

You do need to take a break, think, and most of all express in some safe way what it is that you are feeling.

Observing yourself as though you were a kind of scientist, the next step is to evaluate what you have just put down on paper. Are all those assumptions justified?

You probably do not know the answer to that, and so the next step is the hardest: You need to be asking questions, directly from the source.

Gather your composure and find a way to have a conversation. Sometimes this means a third party is in the room; other times it’s just the two of you.

Focus on the work at hand — not your personal triggers. “We need to do business together” is the point, “and to do that I need to feel psychologically safe and to trust you.”

Of all the professional mistakes I have made in my life, handling vulnerable moments at work has bedeviled me the most.

Fortunately I am learning.

If you can simply teach yourself the ability to WAIT AND EVALUATE, you may even find a golden opportunity awaits.

For our most valuable teachers, very often, are the ones who can perceive and communicate well our most persistent weaknesses.

The capacity to receive that information, calmly and without interrupting, is the best skill you will ever have at work.

It makes you stronger, more capable and more confident — every single day.


All opinions my own. Public domain photo by moritz320 via Pixabay.

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