You Can Handle the Truth: Mispredicting the Consequences of Honest Communication

97 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2017 Last revised: 3 Jun 2017

Emma Edelman Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Taya R. Cohen

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Date Written: February 1, 2017

Abstract

People highly value the moral principle of honesty, and yet, they often avoid being honest with others. One reason people may avoid being completely honest is that honesty frequently conflicts with kindness: candidly sharing one’s opinions and feelings can hurt others and create social tension. In the present research, we explore the actual and predicted consequences of communicating honestly during difficult conversations. We compare honest communication to kind communication as well as a neutral control condition by randomly assigning individuals to be honest, kind, or conscious of their communication in every conversation with every person in their life for three days. We find that people significantly mispredict the consequences of communicating honestly: the experience of being honest is far more pleasurable, leads to greater levels of social connection, and does less relational harm than individuals expect. We establish these effects across two field experiments and two prediction experiments and we document the robustness of our results in a subsequent laboratory experiment. We explore the underlying mechanisms by qualitatively coding participants’ reflections during and following our experiments. This research contributes to our understanding of affective forecasting processes and uncovers fundamental insights on how communication and moral values shape well-being.

Keywords: honesty, affective forecasting, ethics, communication

Suggested Citation

Levine, Emma Edelman and Cohen, Taya R., You Can Handle the Truth: Mispredicting the Consequences of Honest Communication (February 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2910067

Emma Edelman Levine (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Taya R. Cohen

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business ( email )

5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
4122686677 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.tepper.cmu.edu/our-faculty-and-research/about-our-faculty/faculty-profiles/tcohen/cohen-t

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