Want perfect strangers to trust you more? Apologize for the rain. Or anything else completely beyond your control.
Sounds silly, right? Yes, but according to a study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science, it really works. They tested it out in for different situations.
In the first experiment, 178 students thought that they were participating in a financial study with a partner located in another room. They were told that sometimes, a computer would override their decisions—an event beyond their control. If the student’s “partner” (really a researcher’s patsy) apologized about the override, they were rated as more trustworthy.
In the second experiment, 177 students watched a video of a stranger approaching a passenger at an airport waiting for a delayed flight and asking to borrow a mobile phone. The students then had to say how they’d react. Students were most likely to let the stranger borrow their phone if he was shown apologizing for the flight delay, verses no apology, a neutral greeting, or even a more conventional apology (along the lines of “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt . . .”).
In the third experiment, 310 adult participants had to imagine meeting a used iPad seller. If they were told that the seller apologized about the rain first, they were more likely to say that they’d trust the seller.
Finally, in the most interesting experiment, a male actor approached sixty-five strangers at a train station on a rainy day to ask to borrow their phone. For half of the strangers, the actor apologized about the rain—and that made a big difference. Half of the strangers were willing to lend their phone to the actor if he made the silly apology, versus nine per cent to whom he did not apologize.
According to the study’s authors, “Superfluous apologies represent 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.”