Mind & Body

To Win Friends and Influence People, Show More Weakness

It seems intuitive that if you want to win friends and influence people, you should show them your best self and highlight your strengths. But a boatload of fascinating science actually suggests the opposite — the way to win trust and make people like you is to reveal your flaws and weaknesses.

Don't Cry Over Spilled Coffee

Back in 1966, a team out of Harvard actually staged this experiment, Shotton explains. The researchers filmed two actors answering questions identically except for a final embarrassing "pratfall" (a funny physical accident, like slipping on a banana peel) by one actor. They then asked students to offer their opinions of the two people appearing in the videos.

Here's the key finding, according to Harvard's Elliot Aronson: "The pratfall made the contestant more appealing as it increases his approachability and makes him seem less austere, more human." More recent science has found the same effect again and again — flaws and embarrassments actually make people like us more. (Marketers should take note of this when building brands, Shotton concludes).

Dare to Be Imperfect

Shotton isn't the only one making this point. Over on the TED Ideas blog, business writer Daniel Coyle made a related argument recently: revealing our vulnerabilities builds trust and accelerates team bonding. In the detailed post, Coyle explains the power of what scientists call a "vulnerability loop" to promote bonding and cooperation.

A vulnerability loop is when one person dares to reveal a weakness and then another responds by revealing a weakness of their own. The strategy is not without its dangers, obviously. If the other party doesn't respond in kind, showing your flaws can backfire badly, so you need to choose the context carefully. But when the gesture is reciprocated, powerful bonds of trust are formed, allowing the two partners to trust each other and cooperate much more effectively.

"We think about trust and vulnerability the way we think about standing on solid ground and leaping into the unknown. First we build trust, then we leap. But science is showing we've got it backward," Coyle concludes. "Most of us see vulnerability as a condition to be hidden. But when it comes to creating cooperation, vulnerability is not a risk but a psychological requirement."

The takeaway from all this research couldn't be clearer or more useful (even if implementing it is guaranteed to be a little scary): if you're looking to make friends and build your influence, hiding your flaws will backfire. Showing your weaknesses and vulnerabilities is actually your secret weapon.

How to Get People to Like You

Written by Jessica Stillman May 4, 2018

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