I’m sorry, I was wrong

There is single moment, after these five words are spoken with genuineness, in which trust and closeness either grow or shrink. If the receiver of this message opens themselves to its inherent vulnerability, accepts it with authenticity, and sees it as a present or future opportunity to also share their own challenges or weaknesses – trust grows and the relationship grows.

Harvard professor Jeff Polzer calls this moment a ‘vulnerability loop’:

  1. Person A sends a message of vulnerability – an apology or shares a shortcoming.
  2. Person B detects and accepts this message.
  3. Person B sends their own message of vulnerability.
  4. Person A detects and accepts this message.
  5. A new norm is created with closeness and trust enhanced.

What evolves from this type of interaction is a relationship in which it is okay to be wrong, to be imperfect and to need help sometimes. Vulnerability loops are linked to our sense of safety – they help create a human bond.

It takes courage to share our faults. And for some people, being seen to be right is more important than being seen. But the truth is, we are all flawed and we all need other people. A shared, respected sense of vulnerability simply gives us permission to tell the truth and to grow together.

Published by

David Bott

Hi, I'm David Bott, Associate Director of the Institute of Positive Education in Australia.

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