Community / January 29, 2021

Getting Personal: How vulnerability leads to safety and trust within groups

Getting Personal: How vulnerability leads to safety and trust within groups

We’ve all heard that there is a place and time for everything; one of those things being vulnerability. Like many others, I used to believe that being vulnerable was equivalent to showing weakness. However, after reading numerous articles, watching talks by author and podcaster Brené Brown, and learning about psychological safety in my Leadership and Teamwork class, I realize I had it all wrong. Presently, I sing the tune that vulnerability is strength. Truth is, it takes courage to reveal parts of ourselves that may go against our self-presentations.

Presenting this image of “having it together at all times,” especially at work or in school, can be in conflict with our realities sometimes. Our reality could be that perhaps we are going through a rough patch or maybe the opposite - perhaps there are many wonderful things happening in our personal lives. Often those things are easier to share. But, what does vulnerability look like in our circles?

I am learning through experience that vulnerability lives in the moment when we choose to have our guard down and to invite others in. At the right place and time, letting our guard down offers resonance, and can lead to a real connection. When done appropriately, we may feel seen by each other, and in that moment, trust is present. Those trust and connections are necessary in building psychological safety within groups and in one-on-one relationships.

While sharing may come easy for some, it proves to be a challenge for many others. For instance, although I believe vulnerability is strength, the truth is that it doesn’t come easy for me. I sometimes struggle to open up in new circles, especially professional ones where I learned early on to set boundaries between my personal and work life. I work through this challenge by approaching every new group as a unique situation. For example, by saying, "It is a challenge for me to share parts of myself outside of work or school," is in fact a moment of vulnerability. Others in the group may resonate with that same sentiment and in that moment, a little bit of trust is gained.

So how much of ourselves should we be sharing in professional groups? That is entirely up to you and your group.

Some groups that spend a lot of time working together on a project may end up knowing more about each other compared to a group that is large and doesn’t spend much time together. Leaders that see strength in vulnerability may use it to create safety and trust in groups early on through icebreaker activities. Through facilitation, a time and place can be created to get personal.

–By Frances Ampah. Ampah is a 2022 MBA Candidate, Forté Fellow, and a Smith Fellow. Ampah was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, lived in Virginia, and worked for four years as a film producer and content creator in Los Angeles before coming to Maryland Smith.

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