Is talking about our vulnerability allowed in the workplace?

Is it ok not to be ok?

Almost 29 million people have watched ‘The Power of Vulnerability 2010’s TED TALK’ by Brené Brown. The sheer volume of viewers shows there is an appetite for the topic, but is talking about our own vulnerability really allowed in the workplace? Loughlin Hickey, ex Global Head of Tax, KPMG says “Having the courage to be vulnerable is a form of love, because you are exposing yourself in the service of others.”

Hickey goes further and argues that people shy away from emotive words, but emotions are at the heart of relationships and that without those you have no real sustainable business. He suggests that sound businesses are founded on the quality of understanding between individuals. Yet, as Hickey points out in another video about bringing your whole self to work, people are asking the wrong questions. They should start with: “What is it that I believe in, myself? And how can I deploy that in the workplace?” Rather than “I’m in the workplace, what part of me am I allowed to snick in?”

Our emotions and our vulnerabilities are part of who we are and how we learn. The Oasis’ Whole Person Learning approach advocates that we give space in the workplace to our feelings, allowing our imagining capacity to flourish, and bringing deeper reflecting moments so that meaningful acting can take place.

Nevertheless, theory is always easier than practice. We constantly face biased opinions about how much of our Whole Person we should reveal. Recently a friend of mine read one of my stories, where I openly talk about vulnerable places I have been in my life, and he said that whilst he liked it, he did not think I should mention the time I had chronic fatigue – a physical illness that is linked to emotions and stress.

My friend had the best of intentions and he was only trying to help and protect me from negative impressions others might have. Because he is a close friend, he could talk to me openly. I will never know, however, how many other people have thought the same as my friend and did not mention anything; or, even, how many people have thought exactly the opposite of my friend, identified with me, but did not dare to talk about their own vulnerability.

What I do know, and what I responded to my friend, is that my vulnerabilities are part of who I am. I am a practitioner of the Whole Person Learning approach and I bring my whole self to my work. In this sense, walking the talk and disclosing my weaknesses make me stronger.

Sometimes, I even talk about my journey and my experience with chronic fatigue in the workshops I give about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). On a few occasions, participants came to me during the break to ask more and to disclose that they too were having similar symptoms and were worried.

Despite many examples about the importance of demonstrating our emotions and the vulnerability that comes by doing that, this is still a taboo in our society and especially in the workplace. Too many of us deal with common psychological health issues on our own, but it does not have to be this way.

As Guy Winch states in his TED Talk: ‘Why we all need to practice emotional first aid’, as much attention should be given to our mental health as to our physical health. He argues that we talk easily about physical pain, like broken bones, upset stomach, and migraine and that we should do the same about emotional pain, like failure, rejection, guilt, loss, or loneliness.

I am doing my share by applying the Whole Person Learning approach to my work and by living as a whole person, and not a Facebook profile. Are you doing your share?

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