I love this quote from Robert Rubin, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, because it states so cleverly something I often feel. If you say “X,” I automatically think, “But what about Y?” and “Is X always X”?
Aside from driving my husband occasionally bonkers, this thought pattern also feels at odds with a culture that values straight-talking self-confidence.
So I was very happy to read about a recent Stanford Business School study suggesting that experts are more persuasive when they express doubt. The researchers asked people what they’d pay for a meal at a fictional restaurant called Bianco’s. Some of the people read a review of Bianco’s that was certain ( “A Confident 4 Out of 5 Stars”) and others a review that was less sure (“A Tentative 4 Out of 5 Stars.”)
The surprise results? People who read the uncertain review said they were willing to pay 56% more than those who’d read the confident review.
The researchers speculate that the reason for this is a phenomenon called “expectancy violations.” We expect experts to be confident; tentativeness surprises us; and surprise makes an impact.
But I think that people who admit doubt are simply more credible. We all know that things are rarely what they seem. People who are unfailingly confident in their opinions are probably glossing over ambiguities. Doubtful and hesitant people are simply telling it like it is. They are the true straight-talkers among us.
As someone who often doubts and sometimes gets criticized for wondering what’s really going on, I agree… I think.
I think people who express doubt or ambivalence are more credible, too, but I suspect that extroverts don’t see it that way. I’ll be interested to see what others say about it.
I’d go further – doubt is underrated because of the extrovert ideal you highlight. My favourite quote (which may be a slight paraphrase):
“So many of the world’s problems are caused because fools and fanatics are so sure of their view while wise men are full of doubt” – Bertrand Russell
Russell (who described himself as sometimes feeling like a ghost amongst others) is another ‘great’ to add to your list of introverts.
PS – thanks for the parenting tips for introverted children. Really helpful
This rings true for me. In my field of work (engineering consultancy), it seems to me that too many so-called experts (I hate that word!) are far too quick to advance their opinions just to fill a void. These people tend to be the ones who are the most verbose, confident, and seem to spend their careers acting as ‘professional experts’. It looks for all the world like they would rather advance a tenuous or wholly unrealistic theory than say “I don’t know”.
There’s a humility, a recognition that we can be wrong, that tastes and circumstances change, that people are different.
A speaker in our church said something like: “The older I get, the fewer things I’m certain of. But I’m more and more certain about those things.”
We’re always certain when we are talking. Or we think we’re certain. Or we pretend to be. Otherwise, we would stop talking. Go back to the drawing board. The thinking board. That’s why we’re Quiet.