Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Who is Trustworthy?

Who do you trust? Why? How much do you know about trust? It is worth thinking about. Trust shapes how we conduct our relationships, who we work with, many of the choices we make. Trust plays a part in big moments in our lives. It’s there when we sign a contract, make a large purchase or exchanging wedding vows.

So given the importance of trust, is there anything we can do to generate it? A study by researchers at Harvard Business School and Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania suggests that if you want people to see you as trustworthy, try apologising for situations outside of your control. This could be simply the weather or a delayed bus or a traffic jam.

The researchers had a male actor approach 65 strangers (30 women) at a train station on a rainy day to ask to borrow their mobile phone. Pretty big ask from a complete stranger, particularly given how we value our smart phones these days. Crucially, for half of them he preceded his request with the superfluous apology: "I'm sorry about the rain!" The other half of the time he just came straight out with his request: "Can I borrow your phone?" The superfluous apology made a real difference. Forty-seven per cent of strangers offered their phone when the actor apologised for the rain first, compared with just nine per cent when there was no apology. That is a big win for the fairly useless apology.

In a different angle, an often quoted study by Professor William Hampes in the Europe Journal ofPsychology looked at the relationship between humour and trust. It found that those who scored high on a test that measured their sense of humour for social purposes were considered more trustworthy. Humour and trust are key components of emotional intelligence and are associated with satisfying and healthy interpersonal relationships. Plenty of arguments have been defused by a well timed joke or a humorous explanation. It could also be that people who can tell a joke are a bit more likeable and therefore we are open to trusting them.

On the other side of the coin, if you are wondering who you can trust then go with your initial reaction. Research led by David DeSteno at Northeastern University suggests that when it comes to deciding whom to trust, our first impressions can be quite accurate. Trustworthiness is linked to specific kinds of non-verbal cues and we are hard-wired to pick up on these and recognise trustworthy people.

So if you need to earn trust with someone you have just met, try out these options. Crack a few jokes and find something to apologise about. It works, trust me.

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