Grant: You talk about that as a loop, where both of us have to show vulnerability, but I can think of situations where it doesn’t get reciprocated. Sometimes the first person seems like they’re oversharing, and then people just look at them like, “That was awkward.”

I’ve seen that happen in the classroom a few times. I remember we were once talking about personality, and a student literally blurted out, “Oh my gosh, I know why my boyfriend is so boring! He’s an introvert!” Everyone just sat there and stared, [like] “What do we do with this?” What happens when the loop doesn’t complete?

Coyle: Nothing happens. Actually, [people get pushed] a little further apart. A vulnerability loop is actually quite complicated—someone has to signal vulnerability, the other person has to receive that signal, and then they have to send their own [signal of] vulnerability back. There are three distinct things that have to happen, and it’s kind of delicate. Before that moment of vulnerability, there’s a moment of calibration.

Grant: [Like,] “We’re going to go there.”

Coyle: “We’re going to go there.” That ends up creating more of a controlled environment than you have in your classroom.

Grant: This seems like a big question of timing. How do you know when it’s safe or it’s the right context to start the loop?

Coyle: We are hierarchical creatures by nature, [so] the leader has an outsize impact. In all the groups I visited, the leader sending a small signal of fallibility ends up being one of the most powerful things. And that fallibility can be tiny—it can be, “Hey, that presentation was kind of a rough one, but I really want to [thank] the people who helped me.”

Gregg Popovich of the [San Antonio] Spurs is one of the most hardcore authoritarian coaches out there, but he also expresses his connection to his players really well. His players are paid millions of dollars to play for the team, [but] at the end of each season, he takes each one aside and he says, “Thank you for allowing me to coach you.”

Vulnerability comes in a lot of flavors, and there are a lot of different tools you can use to deliver it. The good leaders that I saw used that, and it made a huge impact on their organization.

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