Unexpected friends

You may not have anything in common.  On paper it might seem you’d never be friends. But you just… “click.”

How does that work?  Well one of the reasons is vulnerability.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps the other person to trust you, precisely because you are putting yourself at emotional, psychological, or physical risk. Other people tend to react by being more open and vulnerable themselves. The fact that both of you are letting down your guard helps to lay the groundwork for a faster, closer personal connection. When you both make yourselves vulnerable from the outset and are candid in revealing who you are and how you think and feel, you create an environment that fosters the kind of openness that can lead to an instant connection — a click.

Vulnerability is also the element of clicking you have the most control over and can therefore use to improve how often and how deeply you connect with others.

There’s a heirarchy of vulnerability in the types of communication we have, each one being more open and more likely to lead to a solid connection:

  • Statements with no emotional content: “How are you?”
  • Share information, maybe personal information, but no strong opinions or emotions are involved: “I live in New York.”
  • Statements show opinions, but they’re not core beliefs:“That movie was really funny.”
  • Emotionally based. It’s personal, says something deeper about who you are and is focused on feelings:“I’m sad that you’re not here.”
  • The most emotionally vulnerable level. Peak statements share your innermost feelings. “…feelings that are deeply revealing and carry the most risk in terms how the other person will respond.” These statements are rare, even with people we are very close to: “I guess at heart I’m terrified I’m going to lose you.”

Does this really work? Yes.

What makes people connect quickly and deeply is the emotional, personal form of information exchange that promotes feelings of understanding. You can even use it to accelerate the creation of bonds with strangers. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions.

Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is interested in how people form romantic relationships, and he’s come up with an ingenious way of taking men and women who have never met before and making them feel close to one another. Given that he has just an hour or so to create the intimacy levels that typically take weeks, months, or years to form, he accelerated the getting-to-know-you process through a set of thirty-six questions crafted to take the participants rapidly from level one in McAdams’s system to level two.

(You can read some of the questions used here.)

But how effective can this be really? In under an hour it can create a connection stronger than a lifelong friendship.

What he found was striking. The intensity of the dialogue partners’ bond at the end of the forty-five-minute vulnerability interaction was rated as closer than the closest relationship in the lives of 30 percent of similar students. In other words, the instant connections were more powerful than many long-term, even lifelong relationships.

Having online daters discuss controversial and taboo subjects like STD’s and aborton is more effective in building a connection than “safer” topics:  Instead of talking about the World Cup or their favorite desserts, they shared their innermost fears or told the story of losing their virginity. Everyone, both sender and replier, was happier with the interaction. Click points out that studies have shown self-disclosure promotes sexual satisfaction and relationship/marital satisfaction. It even helps online daters:

…Match.com members who made an active choice to share more personal information about themselves in their profiles and in communication with others were more likely to experience success in the dating process.

It even makes us feel closer to computers. When Harvard students interacted with a program that opened up to them (it admitted feeling guilty about crashing so often) they liked it more and felt it was more helpful.

This concept resonates with a lot of people. In fact, one of the most popular TED talks of all time is Brené Brown‘s presentation on vulnerability.