Do you want people to instantly find you more likeable? Do you want to come across as trustworthy? What if I told you that one simple sentence could do just that? Well, researchers at Harvard University have conducted a study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, that found the very sentence that does the job. And what exactly is the sentence?
“I’m sorry about the rain!”
Okay, it’s not exactly what the sentence is but what it represents. The study found that apologising for circumstances outside of your control makes you come across as more credible, likeable and honest. People who use superfluous apologies tend to be welcomed more warmly by strangers than those who do not.
So what exactly did the experiment involve and what do the results really mean?
Several experiments were undertaken using different scenarios. The most compelling experiment involved a male actor that approached 65 people at a rainy train station over two days. He requested to borrow random people’s phones – half the time adding that he was sorry about the rain before his request, while with the other half he just asked to borrow the phone without the initial apology. Amazingly, without the apology only 9% of the people asked found him trustworthy enough to let him borrow their phone whereas adding the apology about the rain saw that jump to 47% of instances where people gladly handed over their phone to him. That raised his credibility by 38%.
The researchers tried this with two other scenarios which involved asking people to watch a video or imagine the situation instead. One experiment involved asking participants to imagine they were heading out into the rain to greet a second-hand iPod seller. They were asked whether or not they would find the seller more trustworthy if he apologised for the rain first, and again, the participants rated him as more trustworthy when using the phrase than without.
People were asked to watch a video of somebody approaching passengers of a delayed flight asking to borrow their mobile phone. They were asked to imagine they were the passenger being asked and what their response would be. When they witnessed the person apologising on the video before making the request the participant was much more likely to acknowledge credibility and say they would hand over their phone.
What Do The Results Mean?
It seems the unnecessary apology creates a sense of empathy towards the asker and when we only have split seconds to make the decision, it sways us to think that this person is trustworthy. It is also thought to be an effective way to open up communication with the other person creating an invitation to respond in a positive way. The researchers describe that the apologiser “communicates that he has taken the victim’s perspective, acknowledge adversity and expresses regret.”
The idea that the person on the receiving end is a victim shows that there is a certain vulnerability in the situation and by apologising we are acknowledging that, not only do we realise this, but that we’re sorry for putting them in the situation in the first place. We are therefore diffusing the victim mentality and putting ourselves on the same level – it’s showing that we care.
Should We Apply This?
In a word – yes. Quite clearly the value of an apology for something outside of our control is high. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to ask someone for a favour and need their willingness to cooperate then you will be mightily more successful if you add in a little superfluous phrase before the request.
Or, of course, next time you’re out in a rainstorm try turning to your fellow comrades and apologising for it – their opinion of you may just go up.
Featured photo credit: Silvia Sala via albumarium.com