Brené Brown’s 6-Word Phrase Perfectly Explains How Much Vulnerability at Work is Too Much

two colleagues talking

Christina @ wocintechchat.com/Unsplash

Profile Picture
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 25, 2024 at 2:26AM UTC

Emotional intelligence is one of the top ten skills professionals need for success, according to The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs report.

Having a high emotional quotient (EQ) is increasingly recognized as a pivotal skill for professionals of all levels. For leaders and managers, it’s absolutely essential. In fact, according to Daniel Goleman, it’s responsible for almost 90% of what sets exceptional performers apart from similarly-skilled peers. Technical skills, after all, are only part of the picture. This is a given for workers in their roles, but soft skills, including emotional intelligence, make the difference.

A huge part of emotional intelligence is vulnerability. Dr. Brené Brown has researched this quality for decades and is now recognized as a foremost expert on the subject. Her enormously popular TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, and her many books, articles, podcasts and additional media on vulnerability have made her the go-to authority on the topic.

But while vulnerability is critical for workplace success, it does have limitations — and a time and place.

"Vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability."

Recently, Dr. Brown spoke with Adam Grant on the WorkLife podcast and explained that vulnerability shouldn’t be used as a justification for unburdening yourself to your colleagues or oversharing your problems and worries.

While sharing personal stories and qualities to build connections with others is a powerful way to create a safe space and supportive, open environment, dumping your concerns, fears and anxieties on others to “unburden” yourself is not. 

“Vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability,” Dr. Brown said. “Are you sharing your emotions and your experiences to move your work, connection or relationship forward?” she went on to ask. “Or are you working your s--t out with somebody?"

If it’s the latter, that’s not the way to use vulnerability — in fact, it’s not authentic vulnerability at all.

So, before you’re tempted to open up, ask yourself: Are you doing it to forge stronger relationships? Or are you attempting to unload emotional baggage on them?

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always