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’:
- Person A sends a message of vulnerability – an apology or shares a shortcoming.
- Person B detects and accepts this message.
- Person B sends their own message of vulnerability.
- Person A detects and accepts this message.
- 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.
It can be a weird, sometimes unsettling, sometimes enlightening experience to read or hear something that makes you realise that you’ve been wrong your whole life.
We all know how important relationships are. And we know how dependent relationships are on trust. And we know that a willingness to be open and vulnerable with those we trust helps to build closeness.
But I had always thought that the the process worked like this:
meet someone » get to know them well » earn trust » be vulnerable (knowing that you won’t be hurt) » develop closeness
But then I read Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code and realised that I had been thinking about this incorrectly since I was a child. Coyle’s research into some of the world’s most successful individuals and organisations highlighted that being willing to be vulnerable and take a risk with another person is how you build trust. Deep trust forms when we take a risk, expose ourselves emotionally to someone and they don’t hurt us. So the process of developing trust really looks like this:
meet someone » be vulnerable (even though you might get hurt) » share experience » develop deep trust
It is particularly when two people go through an experience from a state of shared vulnerability, of not knowing, that real trust emerges. It is, obviously, much riskier and takes more courage to be open with people before you know them well. But the upside is the opportunity to accelerate the development of deeper, more trusting and more meaningful relationships.