By Shantanu Mohan
June 25, 2018
In one of Leslie’s studies, participants were posed a series of sensitive questions in an
online survey. For one group of participants, the website’s user interface looked fun and frivolous;
for another group, the site looked official. (The control group was presented with a neutral-looking
site.) Participants were about twice as likely to reveal sensitive information on the casual-looking
site than on the others.
People also tend to be more forthcoming when given an escape hatch or “out” in a conversation. For
example, if they are told that they can change their answers at any point, they tend to open up more
—even though they rarely end up making changes. This might explain why teams and groups find
brainstorming sessions so productive. In a whiteboard setting, where anything can be erased and
judgment is suspended, people are more likely to answer questions honestly and say things they
otherwise might not. Of course, there will be times when an off-the-cuff approach is inappropriate.
But in general, an overly formal tone is likely to inhibit people’s willingness to share information.