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Appear Vulnerable


Techniques > How to > How Can I Get People to Trust Me? > Appear Vulnerable

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Show some kind of weakness, some vulnerability where others could take perhaps advantage of you.

Be careful with this. Avoid showing vulnerability that could lead to them viewing you with contempt or taking advantage of you in some way that is harmful. It is better to show you are vulnerable in ways which do not reduce people's respect for you.


In a speech, a leader confesses that she is afraid of spiders.

A new person in a team points out that they know much less that the established team members.

A person on a date lets slip that they were anxious about rejection when they asked the other person out.


We are programmed to be constantly vigilant for threats, and so one of the first things we look for in other people is signs that they may harm us. If they appear powerful, then we will treat them with caution and only trust them a little. If, however, they appear vulnerable, then we know they cannot harm us and so we trust them more.

In practice, we classify people along a spectrum, from invulnerable power to total vulnerability. It only takes a little vulnerability for us to move them down the scale. Powerful people may appear to have no vulnerabilities, and so can appear dangerously scary or even superhuman. When they show vulnerability they also show humanity and other people will more easily identify with them.

Vulnerability is related to revenge. If they harm us, then we may seek vengeance, wanting to punish them in return so they are less likely to harm us again. If we cannot find a vulnerability, then they can harm us with impunity. All we need is a way in, a lever of some kind, and we will feel more comfortable with our ability to punish. When we know they know this, we believe they will be less likely to harm us and so we trust them more.

There are also social norms around vulnerability, that we should never harm and perhaps also help those who are vulnerable in some way. People who are old, young or disabled typically fall into this category. Appearing vulnerable calls upon this norm.

So what?

If you are powerful, show some vulnerability, but that which does not weaken your power. Appear human. Make small mistakes. Show you are frightened by things that frighten others (but maybe not quite as much, so you can still project confidence).

You may also seek to conceal the power that you have or downplay the things you can achieve by using it.

See also


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