Creating Safe Spaces for Vulnerability at Work


Awareness Advantage Podcast
Creating Phycological Safe Spaces for Vulnerability at Work

Kevin McCarthy, and Likky Lavji


The following is a summary of this episode of the Awareness Advantage podcast. Each week, bestselling Blind Spots authors Kevin McCarthy and Likky Lavji and a studio audience of managers and senior leaders throughout North America discuss overcoming blind spots to develop and lead high-functioning, high-trust teams and organizational cultures. If you would like to be invited to join the live virtual studio audience, click here


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How do you create psychological safety for your team members to feel vulnerable in the workplace?

First, it is important to consider why a safe space for vulnerability is valuable for employees, managers, and businesses. In short, this safety allows people to share their decision-making process, blocks to success, challenges and weigh consequences, which builds trust and develops a culture of honesty, loyalty and shared values.

Each person and each organization is different. So not all strategies for creating this safe space for yourself and your team will work for everyone. However, there are some common threads as we speak to leaders in a range of industries which may resonate with you.

Creating Safe Spaces - Downline

Be vulnerable yourself

Modeling your vulnerability shows that you are open to theirs. As a leader (or team member) your openness could be contagious, and foster trust. Your vulnerability could be your greatest strength.


Be careful how you handle when someone else is being vulnerable

When someone is being vulnerable, they are looking to you for acceptance, and safety. Be sure to acknowledge what it is they want by using not only your words, but your tone, and body language. Honor their vulnerability by giving them your full attention.


Ask someone what they need in the moment

When meeting with someone, ask what that person needs in the moment. Are they asking for advice? Or someone to fix their problem? Or do they just need  to talk things through. Not everyone wants a “fixer”!


Show and tell

One of the best things you can do for your team is to show them how you think through a problem. Communicate the process, include others who can or will benefit, and remind them when “no action required.” Not only does verbalizing help you organize your strategy, it models the behavior of vulnerability and shows your trust.


Open Door Policy
Do you have an “open door policy?” What does that mean to you and do your employees really feel like they can come to you and be vulnerable? If not, what can  you do to change this?


Creating a high trust culture requires demonstrating vulnerability, and making sure every individual feels safe and valued. When team members see you being vulnerable, they feel safe to share vulnerabilities, and trust can be built.


Creating Safe Spaces - Upline


Floodlighting vs Flashlighting 

Brené Brown, author of The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage has a concept of Floodlighting and Flashlighting. “Floodlighting” is using vulnerability to release discomfort, and can be used to overwhelm someone we hardly know with personal details. Floodlighting isn’t really vulnerability. It’s a way we protect ourselves from the unknown. However, “Flashlighting” means having to let go a little bit. It is true vulnerability, but it is also specific. It means engaging in conversations which directly communicate your needs. “Flashlighting” requires trust.


Ask for what you need (fix it vs. listen)

In the moment you are being vulnerable–be sure to tell your manager/partner/co-worker what you need. Tell them “I just need to talk this through” or “I am not coming to you to fix this, just to let you know I am working on a solution”. Author Allison Armstrong calls this “holding the bucket.”


Know when to be a duck

Not everything can or should be shared with all people. Just like ducks in a pond there are times when a calm demeanor on the outside is masking a million things below the surface. Understand that there are personal vulnerabilities and work vulnerabilities and not everyone needs to know everything.


If your upline bosses are not showing vulnerability, you may need to be more intentional to show them your value.

Here are some ways to take the first steps and to help others see your value. Keep your value top of mind by bringing your accomplishments and that of your team to the organization.


  • Is there anything that has been brought to your attention that I should know?
  • Do you have any concerns?
  • Is there a way we can celebrate this victory?



  • “I am so excited to share some great news…”
  • “Can I share a story about my team member who really made a difference this week…”



  • See what is strong - not what is wrong
  • Acknowledge micro-wins and victories to reset the mindset
  • See team members as clients
  • Lead with confidence - Lead with humility 
  • Do what you can to change - build trust.


Of course, creating safe spaces downline is easier than up! If your leadership team does not value trust and vulnerability, then a self-aware team member may never feel safe. In these cases, follow your core values. And you wouldn’t be alone! More and more people are willing to make the shift if they aren't happy. Creating a high trust environment also means company’s must invest in leaders if they want the business to thrive–and for those leaders to see the value in investing in themselves, and thier team.


Raising your self-awareness and emotional intelligence will make you a better leader. High self-awareness equips you to identify and conquer the blind spots that lead to poor decisions, strained relationships and high levels of stress. Awareness is the leader’s superpower that drives engagement, inspires retention and shifts culture. Awareness gives you the advantage you need to influence and inspire the people you lead.


If you would like to know more about how self-awareness makes a better leader, download our latest podcast.



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