I Didn’t Want to Offend You: The Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions
49 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2019
Date Written: June 24, 2019
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: Suggested Citation