Two research-based strategies for building strong connections

Jean Rhodes

Building strong, enduring mentoring relationships depends on many factors, including empathy, proximity, and shared interest.  But here are two  research-based tips that might be helpful to mentors.

Reciprocal self-disclosure

A new study from the University of Michigan highlights the value of reciprocal self-disclosure in building connections with others. The researchers conducted several studies, analyzing over 2,600 conversations on platforms such as Reddit and Facebook, as well as text messages and other settings [1].

The findings indicate that  when individuals respond to someone else’s self-disclosure with a similar personal experience, it fosters feelings of validation, understanding, and care. Reciprocally sharing similar experiences (but not one-upping) helps individuals feel acknowledged and supported.

The researchers suggest that mentors may hesitate to reciprocally self-disclose due to concerns about stealing the spotlight from the other person. Mentors may also struggle to know how much to disclose of their own lives. Yet the study suggests that if mentors had achievements or experienced similar setbacks or even trauma, it is beneficial to share them. By doing so, people can create a sense of connection and empathy.

The findings of this research emphasize the significance of reciprocal self-disclosure in establishing meaningful relationships.

Acknowledge imperfections

Mentors may feel pressure to be wise role models. But nobody is perfect and making mistakes and sharing imperfections can actually build trust and connection.

Studies have shown that individuals who openly acknowledge their flaws and imperfections are perceived as more warm, relatable, and approachable by others. This increased perceived warmth and relatability can foster deeper connections in relationships.

In one classic study, researchers had people evaluate three job candidates. One underperformed, one was nearly perfect, and the third had the same rankings as the perfect one but, during the interview, he spilled coffee on suit.

People like the fumbler best! He seemed more approachable and engendered less envy.

Embracing imperfections can also enhance trust in relationships. Alison Wood Brooks, a researcher at Harvard Business School, found that leaders who openly discuss their failures are perceived as more honest and authentic.

When mentors demonstrate vulnerability and acknowledge their mistakes, it signals honesty and authenticity in ways that can increase trust.


Reese, Z. A., & Orrach, K. (2023). Reciprocal Self-Disclosure: Although Respondents are Reluctant to Steal the Spotlight, Self-Disclosers Feel Validated, Understood, and Cared for when Respondents Share Comparable Experiences. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 0(0).