Leaders are not immune to negative feelings and bad days. However, if they bring their bad mood to the office and take it out on their subordinates, it can have a lasting, detrimental impact on team cohesiveness and productivity. And unfortunately, too many leaders would rather keep those negative emotions to themselves rather than admit vulnerability.
To an extent, vulnerability is a weakness – leaving those who show it exposed to harm. And there’s the belief that managers who show they are vulnerable are not in control. However, when a vulnerability is expressed authentically, it can be an opening for productive conversations. Showing vulnerability shows others that you’re human and that you trust your team with your authentic feelings. But before you start revealing all your personal feelings thinking that it’s a strategic way to gain empathy and a valuable bond, understand that there is a balance that needs to be achieved when sharing vulnerability.
Practicing selective vulnerability is the fine line you must walk as a leader. It requires knowing when you are oversharing and when expressing your emotions are necessary. When done right, selective vulnerability can build strong relationships, translating to a more positive working environment. By practicing selective vulnerability, you also serve as a model for your team who also struggle with their own emotions in the workplace. Here are some ways to practice selective vulnerability:
Explain why you’re in a bad mood without going into detail
Coming into work in a grumpy state of mind can happen for many reasons. But if the cause is a personal conflict involving someone else, it’s best to keep details to yourself. You may have fought with your spouse, in-law, or sibling. And letting your emotions loose on your co-workers can cause a divide as they think about what they would do if faced with a similar situation. After all, most people have comparable relationships in their life and may react differently than you.
The goal of admitting to your bad mood is not to gain sympathy or support but to let others know they are not the cause of your negative feelings. This will help prevent misunderstandings later if you let your emotions get the best of you and accidentally take it out on someone else.
Don’t negate the feelings of others
Selective vulnerability isn’t just about revealing your feelings but encouraging others to share theirs. It’s seeing the signs of negative emotions in others and asking them if there’s something wrong. It should be followed with a genuine invitation to approach you if they want to talk about anything. It shows that you believe that vulnerability doesn’t need to be concealed or prevented. And the opening that you give your employees to share their emotions without prying on the spot also shows that you respect their boundaries.
Suppressing negative emotions can have detrimental effects on mental health, which work pressures can only exacerbate. Ultimately, selective vulnerability can create a more empathetic work environment. It reminds coworkers that we are all human and encourages everyone to seek help when they need it.
As a former CEO and COO, I have built leaders and their teams for over 30 years. I now count top organizations among my grateful clients.
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