... and why we trust people who are willing to show them
You may think that people love you despite your flaws, not because of them. But some of the traits you perceive to be flaws may be more attractive than you realize.
Here are 5 that you may want to start to accept:
1. You embarrass easily. Our visible signs of embarrassment are often more embarrassing than the event that precipitated them. Some people find these signs so humiliating that they resort to surgery to destroy the nerves responsible for blushing and sweating. But as unpleasant as embarrassment may be for those experiencing it, it turns out that other people find it appealing. In one series of studies, participants who displayed more visible signs of embarrassment while recounting an embarrassing moment were judged by observers to be more cooperative, trustworthy, and generous, and observers were more interested in spending time with them.
Rather than signaling weakness or a lack of social skills, embarrassment seems to signal that a person values relationships and is likely to be loyal and reliable. Embarrassment-prone people may make especially good romantic partners, the researchers suggest, since they seem more likely to remain faithful.
2. You overshare. Needless to say, revealing too much personal information with the wrong people in the wrong settings can be disastrous, and having no social filter whatsoever is clearly problematic. But a tendency to err on the side of oversharing isn’t necessarily the worst thing when it comes to building new relationships and deepening existing ones. According to social penetration theory, gradually revealing personal information about oneself is an important way to develop closeness and intimacy. Getting from the superficial level to the real stuff requires a leap into uncharted territory. A moment of vulnerability, uncomfortable as it may feel at the time, can be the thing that breaks down walls and allows a more authentic relationship to grow.
In a 1997 paper, Art Aron and his colleagues found that two strangers who asked each other 36 increasingly probing questions (e.g., “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living?”), compared to those who asked the same number of small-talk questions (e.g., "What did you do this summer?"), experienced feelings of closeness after just 45 minutes. The researchers found that this effect was not dependent on participants having similar attitudes to begin with. One pair even got married six months later; and, as described in an excellent Modern Love essay, a woman who used the 36 questions with an acquaintance as a fun experiment ended up falling in love with him.
It's not that we can forge immediate and lasting bonds with literally anyone just by sharing intimate information. People who aren't afraid to be vulnerable, however, create more opportunities for meaningful connection—romantic or otherwise—through their openness.
3. You like to gossip. They say that no one likes a gossip. But the research suggests otherwise. Although some types of gossip are clearly harmful, others are geared towards protecting people from harm by warning them about dangerous people or situations. Sharing information about backstabbing friends, philandering partners, or corrupt employers may seem petty, but it serves a useful function—not only does it benefit potential victims, but the threat of being the subject of negative gossip can help keep would-be exploiters in check.
Sharing this type of "prosocial" gossip with others communicates that you care about them and trust them, and that can bring you closer. Unfortunately, sharing nastier gossip can make you feel closer, too (in an "us vs. them" sort of way), but that kind of closeness is less likely to last, especially when all parties are left wondering when they might become the next victim. Being a "good" gossip requires being able to distinguish useful and benignly entertaining forms from more destructive ones.
4. You're a klutz. When Jennifer Lawrence famously fell while attempting to walk onstage to accept her 2013 Best Actress Oscar, it just made everyone like her more. It brought her down to earth—literally—and made her seem human and relatable, despite her superstar status. If you’re someone who has a tendency to spill drinks on yourself, have food on your face without knowing it, or trip over your own feet while attempting to dance,fear not: Both Lawrence and scientific research suggest that these qualities probably endear you to others.
In the first study of a phenomenon called the pratfall effect, researchers discovered that participants liked a person who spilled coffee on themselves better than a person who didn't spill on themselves, as long as the spiller seemed otherwise competent (as would be the case for someone like Lawrence). Blunders tend to humanize people, especially those who seem otherwise superior. As long as you’re generally capable, a mistake here and there can help others feel more comfortable around you—and more likely to acknowledge their own mistakes.
5. You're brutally honest. Too much honesty can get you into trouble, but it also shows people they can trust you to be straight with them, even if the truth is painful. Research suggests that people who express their authentic feelings, rather than just say whatever they think others want to hear, tend to have more satisfying relationships and are happier in general. Being honest about how you feel may result in more arguments than if you just pretend everything is fine, but expressing negative emotions isn’t necessarily bad for relationships, and depending on the circumstances, can even make them stronger.
Brutal honesty may not be appropriate in all situations and with all people—knowing where to draw the line is critical—but forthright people tend to make great friends and romantic partners, not only because they don’t let us get away with bad behavior but because when they compliment us, we know they really mean it.
And what about your less endearing flaws? They might not be as bad as you think, either. Research suggests that we tend to have positive illusions about the people we love, finding ways to see virtue in their vices. Over time, these illusions can become reality. As researcher Sandra Murray put it, love seems to be “more prescient than blind,” leading people not only to seem better, but to be better.