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How showing vulnerability helps build a stronger team

By John Lafleur 1 minute read

TL;DR: Show vulnerability to build trust and stronger teams. Don’t do the reverse: wait to build trust to then share vulnerability.

If you’d like trust to develop in your office, group or team — and who wouldn’t? — the key is sharing your weaknesses, says business writer Daniel Coyle.

At some level, we intuitively know that vulnerability tends to spark cooperation and trust. But we may not realize how well this process works, particularly when it comes to group interactions.

Jeff Polzer, a professor of organizational behavior at Harvard, has spent much of his career examining these seemingly insignificant social exchanges. “People tend to think of vulnerability in a touchy-feely way, but that’s not what’s happening,” Polzer says. “It’s about sending a really clear signal that you have weaknesses, that you could use help. And if that behavior becomes a model for others, then you can set the insecurities aside and get to work, start to trust each other and help each other. If you never have that vulnerable moment, on the other hand, then people will try to cover up their weaknesses, and every little microtask becomes a place where insecurities manifest themselves.”

Vulnerability is less about the sender than the receiver. “The second person is the key,” Polzer says. “Do they pick it up and reveal their own weaknesses, or do they cover up and pretend they don’t have any? It makes a huge difference in the outcome.”

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