How well do you really know your coworkers?

How well do you really know your co-workers? The person, not just the colleague. Most of us have a work persona made up of the parts of ourselves we feel comfortable revealing to co-workers that projects the image we have of a professional.

Think about the difference in relationships with colleagues who have the courage to be more vulnerable and act, well, human. Likely, these are the coworkers you go to when you need a hand with something, or a sympathetic ear, or a brainstorming partner. When people are vulnerable with you, you’re more comfortable being vulnerable with them, leading to a better work culture, higher productivity, and increased levels of creativity.

I worked with a lawyer awhile back in a large corporation and I still remember my first impression of him. Arrogant, self-important and hyper-masculine. Almost immediately upon meeting him I decided that I would do my best to steer clear. As it usually works out, I didn’t have much choice in the matter, and we ended up working closely together over the next few months on numerous projects.

I tried to keep him at arm’s length, but the more we worked together, the more I found him to be warm, funny, open and self-deprecating. After the close of our third project, I told him of my first impression, and, imagine my surprise upon hearing that it was intentional. He crafted this hyper-masculine persona for when he first meets people at work as he was afraid of being judged for his sexuality in the corporate world. But it was when he showed his vulnerability, by displaying his full personality, that we were able to work together with an open, collaborative and ‘all-in’ mindset.

What are the consequences of not bringing our full selves to work? There is a lack of engagement, a decrease in productivity and struggles with mental health. When the focus is on maintaining a persona, we are wasting valuable time, and are held back from doing our best work.

In order to encourage this shift, leaders need to intentionally create spaces of psychological safety that allow for, and encourage, vulnerability. They need to show up as their authentic selves, lead with humility and remember that the team is made up of people who are doing the best they can. Encourage your teams to speak up, take risks, and ask for help and you’ll be rewarded with an invigorated team that will reach new levels of productivity, creativity, collaboration and innovation.

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