Embrace Humility to Turn Perceived Weakness into Strength

I’ve always been a fan of Adam Grant, soaking up his wisdom through his books and eagerly reading his newsletters. This week, one piece resonated deeply with me, underscoring a lesson I’ve emphasized in my role as a Cialdini trainer for years.

In his piece on job interviews—In a Job Interview, This Is How to Acknowledge Your Weaknesses—Grant discusses a candidate who openly acknowledged her lack of qualifications in her application. Instead of glossing over her weaknesses or inflating her capabilities, she embraced humility. Yet, she didn’t stop there—she pivoted to highlight her unique strengths that could benefit the company despite her acknowledged shortcomings.

This approach aligns perfectly with the Cialdini principle of authority, which leverages expertise and trustworthiness. Revealing a weakness early on can paradoxically enhance your credibility; it shows your integrity and helps build trust. No one is perfect, and admitting this can make you seem more relatable and trustworthy. The same goes for products or services you may present.

However, acknowledging a weakness is only half the battle. The art lies in conversationally transitioning to your strengths. The use of connectors like “but” or “however” plays a crucial role here. These words act as pivot points, subtly diminishing the impact of the weakness and amplifying the strengths that follow.

Consider your personal relationships. When a partner or family member says, “I love you, but…,” you intuitively brace for what comes after “but”. Similarly, in a professional context, phrases like “but” and “however” prepare the listener for a compelling counterpoint, ensuring your strengths leave a lasting impression.

One of my favorite examples of this technique in action is Warren Buffett’s candid admission to shareholders about a very poor year by any company’s standard but espeicailly by Berkshire Hathaway’s given their decades long historic performance. In “Last year we lost $3.77 billion, however…” I wrote about Buffett’s openness regarding Berkshire Hathaway’s year-end loss, followed by a strategic pivot to focus on how well the company had done over the previous 28 years. It exemplified how effectively acknowledging shortcomings can set the stage for highlighting the positive and influencing the listeners.

So, what should you take away from this? Whenever you’re in a position to influence—be it in a presentation, a sale, or a negotiation—start by honestly assessing and stating the drawbacks in your case. But never stop there! Next, strategically pivot to your strengths using connectors that shift the attention and focus of the other party. This method not only enhances your persuasiveness but also fosters a genuine connection rooted in trust and respect.

I’m grateful to Adam Grant for sparking this reflection on such a critical aspect of communication. I’ll close with these questions for your reflection:

  1. How have you successfully navigated the presentation of your weaknesses in professional settings?
  2. What strategies have you found most effective in transitioning these into strengths?

Edited with ChatGPT


Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE and a faculty member at the Cialdini Institute. An author, TEDx presenter, international speaker, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.

As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world, Brian was personally trained and endorsed by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer, is a business parable designed to teach you how to use influence in everyday situations.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by over 700,000 people around the world and his TEDx Talk on pre-suasion has more than a million views!

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