Wednesday, 5 February 2014

‘I’m Sorry about the Rain!’ – A trust building device

        Want people to trust you? Try apologizing for the rain. A new study by Allison Brooks and her colleges at Harvard Business School found that apologizing for things that are clearly out of your control, such as the weather, increases peoples trust in you.

“Hi Folks. Well, I’m sorry about the rain.”
     - President Bill Clinton, 1995
        In the past an apology has typically been defined as admitting your blamefulness and asking for forgiveness, but with Brook’s findings a whole new meaning and use has been given to the traditional apology. Brooks states that by giving a superfluous apology (apologizing for something that is outside of your control), the apologizer has taken the victims perspective and expressed empathetic concern towards the victim, which leads them to believe the apologizer is kind and concerned about their well-being.
The study consisted of four experiments, 3 lab studies and one field study in which a confederate approached strangers on a train platform (on a rainy day), and apologized for the rain then asked to use their cell phone. 47% of people let the stranger use their phone when he started off by apologizing for the rain, while only 9% of people let the stranger use their phone when he didn’t apologize for the weather, and just asked to use their device.
        Apologizing for something out of your control is even better than a real apology, or a polite greeting. In another experiment the group ran through an online survey, they found that participants rated a confederate the most trustful when they used a superfluous apology (in this case “I’m sorry your flight was delayed”), compared to using a polite greeting (“How are you?”), or a traditional apology (“Sorry for interrupting”).
        Wondering what power an ‘I’m sorry’ truly holds? “Superfluous apologies are a powerful and easy-to-use tool for social influence. Even in the absence of culpability, individuals can increase trust and liking by saying “I’m sorry”- even if they are merely “sorry” about the rain.” Brooks concludes.
Perhaps with this knowledge your future rainy days will be brighter.

-Jesica Mikkila

Resource: Alison Wood Brooks, Hengchen Dai, and Maurice E. Schweitzer (2013). I’m Sorry About the Rain! Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI:10.1177/1948550613506122 

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