My friend Tammy and I are able to reconnect after not seeing each other for months like only good friends can. Our conversation starts where the last one finished off. I can let her know my secrets, my triumphs and even my insecurities without worrying that they will go any further than the room we’re standing in. That level of vulnerability speaks to the depth of the friendship. We met 20 years ago when we worked for the same company and our deep friendship has continued to grow over time.
Do you have friends like this? Those people you can show your underbelly to without being concerned that you’ll be fatally wounded.
The Five Levels of Vulnerability to Trust
At this level you are sharing information. “Nice weather.” “Here is the report.” You are not being vulnerable. There is no risk to trust because you are not sharing any opinions or beliefs. When you first meet people you may start here.
When you go to level two, you start to show a bit more of who you are. You may start sharing your likes and dislikes. It starts to test the other person’s reactions. It’s still a safe place to be since you can distance yourself if you feel threatened or criticized. Still low vulnerability.
At level three you start to take small risks and share your own opinions, thoughts and beliefs. Some people who have high levels of self-trust start at level three. Some may decide it’s too risky to give an opinion and move back down to level two. You are showing a higher level of vulnerability here.
At level four you start sharing your feelings and experiences, and open yourself up by talking about your joys, triumphs, pain and failures. This level is more vulnerable because you are sharing personal information. A decision has been made that this person with whom you are being vulnerable is trustworthy.
You show who you really are, warts and all. There is no fear that what you share will be used against you. This level involves a great deal of vulnerability, but also gives you the deepest relationships. For some people this level is only given to family and friends we’ve known for a long time that have proven they can be trusted.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Texas. Her TED talk on vulnerability has received over 12 million hits. In one of her talks Brown said that you don’t show you're vulnerable until you know you can trust the person. But the definition of trust is to be vulnerable based on positive expectations about someone else’s behavior.
It seems to be a classic Catch 22 - in order to trust you have to be vulnerable, and in order to be vulnerable you have to trust. Our level of trust goes hand in hand with our level of vulnerability. How vulnerable are you willing to be?