If you were to do a search for the “top characteristics of a good manager” chances are you won’t find the word vulnerable on any list. Vulnerability has a connotation with weakness, and as a leader in your company, weakness isn’t really the vibe you’re aiming for.
But knowing when to be vulnerable (in other words, candid and transparent) can help solve complex issues. Managers are often put in positions that create a lot of pressure for maintaining a certain image and make it difficult to let your guard down. This is an uncomfortable position to put yourself in, as no one is infallible or always has all the answers.
Studies show that many great leaders are open communicators. As a leader, when is it time to be vulnerable? Here are some ways you can use an open communication style and vulnerability to solve issues in the workplace:
When you need to deal with uncomfortable situations
Working around an “elephant in the room” or having to avoid awkward situations that no one wants to talk about can be stressful. Instead of wasting energy trying to avoid an issue with the rest of your team, this is a great opportunity to use those transparent communication skills to gracefully approach awkward situations.
As a leader who knows how to be vulnerable, you can approach uncomfortable situations with “How do you guys feel about (this thing), I’ve noticed there’s been some tension around it, so I wanted to hear your thoughts.”
Chances are your team members have been waiting for a cue from you whether they should bring up the uncomfortable situation, topic, or event. The simple acknowledgment and willingness to bring the issue to the surface shows leadership and is enough to get everyone to talk openly and clear the air.
If everyone sees that their leaders are able to bring touchy issues up for discussion respectfully, they’ll feel freer to talk about them as well.
When your culture is suffering
The health of your morale or company culture can really be turned around with your leadership style. Sharing more about yourself and having a deeper relationship with employees, other than just “the boss” can make your organization a better place to work. If it seems your team is a little too austere and has a hard time loosening up, you can help by setting the tone. A sense of humor and a light-hearted attitude can turn a stuffy culture into a happier one.
Here are some tips for communication with transparency:
- During times of uncertainty talk to your team of how you are feeling regarding the unknown. This shows your vulnerability as a leader, and that you empathize with their concerns.
- Don’t withhold information (unless it’s confidential) or “surprise” team members when something has changed. Share news of what you know, when you know it.
- Don’t pretend you know everything or have all the answers in situations when you don’t. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it. You’ll gain more credibility.
With a more transparent leadership style, you can prevent problems from festering or unknown resentments from creating an unhealthy work environment. Workplaces with quiet, unapproachable leaders can lead to unhealthy competition amongst employees as they look for ways to gain favor. Such tactics can include “information hoarding” to gain an advantage over team members, or subtle ways of throwing each other under the bus.
Obviously, this kind of relationship between employees interferes with teamwork, results in a crappy culture, and ultimately hurts productivity.
During communication breakdowns
Sometimes there are situations where nobody is communicating effectively.
As a manager, you’ll be setting the tone for what’s acceptable to talk about, and you can set the example for what kind of communication you’d like to see. When you speak honestly, with a bit of transparency, you make your team members feel more comfortable with a more open communication style.
Being more authentic in your communication style and you’ll open up communication with your team members and perhaps gain more honest feedback, or hear more about the challenges they’re facing. Do they seem comfortable opening up about pressures from work? It’s far better to be able to get an understanding of how they’re coping with work than get a distorted version. This way, you or their colleagues can offer support.
When there is conflict among staff members
During a conflict, don’t take sides and listen openly to both parties. This is where transparency and being open and honest about your expectations will be very important. If you lead a conversation with two parties without pinning the blame on anyone, you can resolve the issue quicker and with less damage. If an employee comes to you with an issue about another coworker, you can help coach them or give them ideas on how they can speak to their coworker and potentially resolve the issue on their own, without your interference.
People who communicate honestly, openly, and authentically are considered more credible and more trustworthy. Knowing when to be vulnerable and making your message clear, straightforward, and consistent will make your team listen with full attention when you have something to say. Transparent communication is essential to building trust, and managing others successfully.