"Some People Are More Certain of Everything Than I Am of Anything"

Doubtful people are telling it like it is.

Posted Apr 08, 2011

"Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything."

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 inappropriate in 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. Maybe.

Does this resonate for you? How certain do you tend to be of your opinions?

*This is a photo of a member of my favorite species on earth, the (sort of) peace-loving bonobo chimp.


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