This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of confessions. I don’t mean the criminal or religious kind; I mean garden-variety acknowledgments and admissions. They have a curious relationship to trust-building.

I’ve confessed a few times recently.

Last week I confessed to failing to write a Weekly Tip because I’m still muddling through a renewed commitment to work/life balance.

The week before I emailed a client I hadn’t reached out to in nearly a year. I was tempted to avoid the communication all-together because (1) it had been a long time (2) I was embarrassed that I didn’t know if he had retired as planned (in which case his retirement came and went without any acknowledgment from me). I texted someone who was “in the know,” and learned that he had chosen a big and unexpected promotion over retirement. Then I wrote to him. I was tempted to (only) say, “I’m tardy to say congrats on your promotion!” Instead, I also confessed my embarrassment that I had to ask someone where he was.

I’ve also missed opportunities to ‘fess up, to keep the record straight. Just last week I failed to follow my own advice about admitting uncertainty about someone’s name. (And while I just confessed that to you, the real power would have come from confessing it to him.)

When I do confess, there are three things that seem to be true:

  • I’m almost always uncomfortable doing it. It feels risky. I much prefer for people to think of me as organized, knowledgeable, and other-focused. It’s not easy to confirm that’s not always the case.
  • My best confessions are honest and simple. Too much “Oh I feel so terribly” and it starts to be all about me, which takes the attention away from where it belongs.
  • Confessing is almost always well received. I got three times as many personal replies to my Weekly Tip email as I normally do, all encouraging and appreciative. And the promoted client answered me within hours.

We assume that by admitting something unfavorable we’ll lose trust, when it’s usually the opposite. Vulnerability is paradoxical. And it’s dramatically different depending on what viewpoint you take. Vulnerability expert Brene Brown reminds us that we experience our own vulnerability as weakness while others experience it as courage.

The key is to take a deep breath and do the opposite of what our baser instincts tell us to do.

Make It Real

This week, look for opportunities to confess a little something you might be tempted to gloss over. What’s it like for you? What kind of reaction do you get?

Learn More


Read about the power of the “V” word in business, or brush up on the power of caveats in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

The following two tabs change content below.

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).