Want to be trusted? Just apologize.

"trust"Well not exactly; but maybe, says Robyn Green in our regular Matrix Monday Review.

Recent research – published by Brooks, Dai and Schweitzer – conducted multiple studies to understand whether or not superfluous apologies increased or decreased trust.  The authors defined superfluous apologies as “expressions of regret for an undesirable circumstance that is clearly outside of one’s control” (for example. I am sorry about the weather, or traffic, or for your lack of sleep… any circumstance or situation for which we have no control).

The authors completed four different studies, each incorporating some form of superfluous apology, to better understand the impact of a superfluous apology on trust.   Surprisingly, the findings – in these studies anyway – were that yes, as a matter of fact, superfluous apologies may result in an increase of trust and likeability.

In one of the cases, the authors assessed an individual’s willingness to hand over their cell phone to a complete stranger.

In sample group A, individuals were approached by the stranger who first, apologized for the weather, and then, requested to borrow their cell phone.  In sample group B, individuals were approached by the same “stranger” who simply requested to borrow their cell phone.  The results, surprisingly, showed that individuals in sample group A were more inclined to loan the stranger their cell phone leading us to believe that the superfluous apology, “ I am sorry about the weather”, had an impact on trust and likeability.

The reality here of course, and one that the authors allude to at the end of the paper, is that there are many factors that can influence trust.

From our experience of working with more than 300 multi-national organizations, apologies may just be the tip of the iceberg: cultures, sincerity, expectations, structure, to name a few come in to play.   However, using SINCERE superfluous apologies in an attempt at connecting to others and showing empathy for their “less than desirable” situation definitely can’t hurt the situation.  Give it a try!

Source: I’m Sorry About the Rain!: Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust by Alison Wood Brooks, Hengchen Dai and Maurice E. Schweitzer. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 26 September 2013

Why not…?


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