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This Simple Sentence Can Increase Your Credibility

This Simple Sentence Can Increase Your Credibility

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 Sciencethat found the very sentence that does the job. And what exactly is the sentence?

“I’m sorry about the rain!”

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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?

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The Experiment

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.

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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.” 

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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

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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