I Didn’t Want to Offend You: The Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions

49 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2019

See all articles by Einav Hart

Einav Hart

University of Pennsylvania

Eric VanEpps

University of Utah - Department of Marketing

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Date Written: June 24, 2019

Abstract

Within a conversation, individuals balance competing concerns, such as the motive to gather information and the motives to avoid discomfort and to create a favorable impression. Across three pilot studies and four experimental studies, we demonstrate that individuals avoid asking sensitive questions, because they fear making others uncomfortable and because of impression management concerns. We demonstrate that this aversion to asking sensitive questions is both costly and misguided. Even when we incentivized participants to ask sensitive questions, participants were reluctant to do so in both face-to-face and computer-mediated chat conversations. Interestingly, rather than accurately anticipating how sensitive questions will influence impression formation, we find that question askers significantly overestimate the interpersonal costs of asking sensitive questions. Across our studies, individuals formed similarly favorable impressions of partners who asked non-sensitive (e.g., “Are you a morning person?”) and sensitive (e.g., “What are your views on abortion?”) questions, despite askers’ reticence to ask sensitive questions.

Keywords: Conversation; Questions; Strategic Information Exchanges

JEL Classification: D01, D03, D74, D81, D84

Suggested Citation

Hart, Einav and VanEpps, Eric and Schweitzer, Maurice E., I Didn’t Want to Offend You: The Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions (June 24, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3437468 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3437468

Einav Hart (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://EinavH.art

Eric VanEpps

University of Utah - Department of Marketing ( email )

1645 E. Campus Center Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9304
United States

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4776 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

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