If I asked you to tell me three immediate ways in which you could improve your trustworthiness — and these couldn’t be things that take a period of time like following through on what you say — you would probably list nonverbal concepts like speaking confidently and mirroring body language to develop rapport. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But, what you may not know is that there are also several linguistic techniques you can use within the actual language you are speaking and even writing. And unlike nonverbal cues, where a bad actor can be easily caught, these tricks are much more difficult to detect.
Use Inclusive Words
Social categorization is a social psychology theory that examines how we perceive ourselves to be a part of groups based on our interpretation of informative cues we receive from ourselves and the world around us. One of the most basic ideas in social categorization is the division of ingroups and outgroups, and the increased loyalty and trust one person can feel for another that is within their group. In Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind, a book by David Berreby, he says we have “a fundamental human urge to classify and identify with ‘human kinds.’” By using inclusive words like “we,” “us,” and “ours,” you can satisfy this urge and at least temporarily make people feel one with your group. As stated, this builds trust through a sense of comradery.
Disclose More Information
Another theory, Uncertainty Reduction Theory, says that people with little previous interaction have uncertainty towards one another. But, people also are averse to this uncertainty and look for means to reduce it through techniques such as self-disclosure. Many studies have found that the mere act of telling more in spoken or written language, whether true or untrue, can reduce uncertainty and increase trust. Therefore, if you’re attempting to build trust with an audience, tell as much as you can.
Use Concrete Language
Abstract language is ambiguous. It is defined by the use of words that represent ideas and concepts, and these words are therefore open to interpretation when it comes to their meaning. In contrast, concrete language is tangible and based on things we know from our senses. Think of the word: “success.” It is abstract because it has different meanings for everyone. If I say, “I wish you success,” what do I mean? Do I mean my interpretation of “success” or yours? But if I say, “I wish you enough money to afford a Bentley and a G6 jet,” you understand exactly what I mean.
A 2010 study stated three reasons to why concrete language is interpreted as more truthful:
- When something is quickly and easily understood we perceive it as more truthful.
- We can create mental images more easily by using concrete language.
- We tend to think that the easier something is to imagine, the more plausible it must be.
And this makes sense. Think about how easily we believe advertisements just because they state concrete statistics like, “Nine out of ten dentists recommend this toothpaste.” We assume that the more details and facts a speaker uses, the more truthful it must be. If you are looking to increase trust in your narratives, concrete language is a fantastic way to do so.