Harjeet Khanduja on Vulnerability in the Workplace

Vulnerability in the Workplace
Corporates love competition. The competition has certain advantages. It makes the workplace lively. It influences employees to work harder to win.

Raj was at the lunch table. He wanted a glass of water. He picked up the glass. He looked for the water jug. It was on the other end of the table. He stretched to get the jug and pulled a nerve.

Anu said, There was no need to stretch. You should have asked. Anyone would have passed on the jug.

Raj nodded, I don’t know why I did not ask for it.

This may look like a trivial incident. However, it depicts a deep-rooted inhibition to ask for help. Do you know how this inhibition becomes deep-rooted?

Super Hero Syndrome

We have grown up in a world watching superhero movies. Maybe we don’t worship them, but we learn about them to be part of a social circle discussion. This learning influences us to be tough like them. Unknowingly, we start behaving tough and stop asking for help. We stop showing that we are vulnerable. This is called Super Hero Syndrome.

If you just do the opposite of it. Ask for help. Just see what happens. Scientific studies have shown that when you ask for help from a group of people, no one helps. However, when you ask for help from a specific person, that person becomes a superhero and helps. Still, people hesitate to ask for help because of another syndrome called Character Artist syndrome.

Character Artist Syndrome

Who wants to play a character artist in their own movie? Everyone wants to be a hero. Remember, Himesh Reshamiya. He is a superstar singer. He wanted to be a hero.

He played the hero in a few movies. The movies did not do well. He lost money as well as credibility. Then he wrote a movie called “Khiladi 786” where Akshay Kumar played the lead role. Himesh made sure that the story revolved around him and he played a good role.

The movie was superhit. Even being a character artist, he made really good money and enhanced his reputation.

Our aspiration to avoid the Character Artist role is associated with feelings of competition, insecurity, fear, and exposure. We do need to realize that each one of us has a unique strength.

At Workplace, if we leverage our strengths and collaborate with others who complement us, then the chances of winning increase significantly.

How Do The Syndromes Manifest?

Corporates love competition. The competition has certain advantages. It makes the workplace lively. It influences employees to work harder to win. In HR parlance, it is called performance management. It works very well initially.

However, it is a double-edged sword. If Individual performance and Team performance are not balanced properly, then people become Chatur from 3 idiots. If they can’t win fairly, they start diverting attention of others from the core job. This vitiates the whole environment. It is a breeding ground for politics and backstabbing.

The environment triggers the latent superhero syndrome and character artist syndrome in people. They stop asking for help. They start wearing masks of bravery. Everyone wants to be a hero and settle for no less, whatever may be the cost.

How To Manage The Syndromes

There are several ways of managing these syndromes including-

1- Culture of Collaboration

The syndromes can be managed by defining the culture that promotes a mix of competition and collaboration. You may start following the Constructive Feedback by recognizing Best Actors in a lead role, comic role, or supporting role rather than having just one Best Hero. Promote team performance. Give equal weightage to winning together along with individual performance.

2- Psychological Safety

Clearly articulate that each individual has unique strengths. The collaboration of people with different strengths makes a team successful. Belbin team roles inventory is a good way to communicate this.

Leaders can share their personal stories about what they bring to the table and how they collaborate to manage their weak points. This provides psychological safety to people to open up and be authentic at the workplace.

3- Constructive Feedback

Create a culture where people can give positive and constructive feedback to each other. Disney has built this culture where their creative directors provide critical constructive feedback to each other. Their feedback always starts with I like your idea….and this is where you can improve.

There are organizations that use alternatives to open feedback by implementing 360-degree feedback, Johari window exercises, and individual development plans. All these interventions strengthen the belief that the universe is not working against the individual. That perception is priceless.

There are many other methods including building support groups or celebrating failures. If you understand the essence you can build your own methods to deal with vulnerabilities at the workplace and unlock the full potential of employees.


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