The Power of Vulnerability in Building Trust

Vulnerability plays a significant role in building trust. By embracing vulnerability through actions like spilling coffee or engaging in self-disclosure, we demonstrate our humanity, humility, and approachability, which can enhance trust. However, it's crucial to consider potential consequences and maintain credibility when displaying vulnerability.

Josh Ether

8/2/20191 min read

When it comes to trust, we often believe that once we trust someone, we can allow ourselves to become vulnerable. However, it turns out that vulnerability itself is a crucial ingredient in building trust. Let's explore this concept further.

Consider the example of Elizabeth Petrakis, who was asked to sign a prenuptial agreement just days before her wedding. This lack of trust and the absence of vulnerability in their relationship became a thorn that led to their eventual divorce. It becomes evident that building trust requires a certain level of vulnerability.

Surprisingly, we can actually increase our vulnerability to foster trust. One way to achieve this is through pratfalls, such as spilling coffee or making minor mistakes. These acts make us appear more approachable, warmer, and relatable. However, it's important to strike a balance with competence. Research conducted with students preparing for a quiz bowl competition revealed that individuals who demonstrated high competence but also spilled coffee were the most liked and trusted. On the other hand, individuals with low competence did not benefit from spilling coffee.

Psychiatrists face a similar challenge in gaining the trust of their patients. To create an environment where patients feel comfortable sharing their deepest secrets, psychiatrists often employ strategies like spilling coffee or making a harmless mistake at the beginning of the session. This demonstration of warmth and vulnerability helps establish trust.

Vulnerability can also be displayed through activities like off-key singing in karaoke or having a drink with others. These actions make us more vulnerable to others, fostering a sense of connection and trust.

Let's examine a more serious context involving the Bosnia War negotiations. Richard Holbrooke, one of the lead negotiators, engaged in intense negotiations with Milosevic. As they worked late into the night, sharing scotch, their vulnerability increased, allowing them to bridge gaps and reach a peace agreement. However, there can be downsides to vulnerability. In Milosevic's case, his lack of foresight led to unforeseen consequences, and he was eventually prosecuted for war crimes.