A psychiatrist named Tom, would employ one of three tactics when he first met a new patient: Either he’d drop a pencil, tell a bad joke or spill his coffee.
Presumably, Tom’s patients had already been impressed by the diplomas on his wall, which signaled his competence and credibility. Now Tom’s goal was to demonstrate some vulnerability and show that he was indeed a fallible human being. That combination of competence and warmth would make him seem more trustworthy.
This technique works just as well in the business realm. The authors cite an example of an American engineer who was working at a company in Japan.
The engineer was annoyed that he was continually listed as a visitor in the minutes of the meetings. But after he joined his Japanese coworkers for a night of karaoke, they started listing him like the rest of the staff. The takeaway, according to the authors, is that highly competent people can make themselves seem more approachable, and more trustworthy, by being a little clumsy or silly. It makes them seem vulnerable and warm.
“By making yourself vulnerable, it is possible to build trust in less time than it takes to mop up a spilled latte,” the authors write. The two caveats here are that you must demonstrate credibility before you exhibit vulnerability — otherwise the formula won’t work. Moreover, you can’t demonstrate vulnerability in a way that undermines your competence.
For example, a surgeon obviously couldn’t drop his tools and feign clumsiness. Bottom line: If you want people to trust you, first impress them with your knowledge and capability, and then show them you’re a human being just like they are.