Tag Archives: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Why Not Saying “No” Might Get You Into More Trouble Than You Think

A quick Google Search will tell you that we have a hard time saying no — almost 70,000,000 results for the exact phrase of “how to say no.” A study published this last fall showed that our proclivity for not saying no might actually lead us into unethical behaviour.

The researchers begin by establishing that studies have shown how we tend not to say no when someone asks us to do something for them (i.e. engage in prosocial behaviour) and use this as the basis for testing whether this might also lead us to comply with unethical requests. To test this hypothesis, the researchers conducted four studies.

In the first study, students had to get another student to tell a “white lie.” The ‘recruiter’ was also instructed to predict how many people they’d have to ask before they’d find someone willing to tell this white lie. Results show that students had to ask approximately half as many people as they expected (8.5 vs. 4.4).

The researchers thought that telling a white lie might not have been “unethical” enough, so in the second study, they had students recruit other students to vandalize. As one would expect, students predicted that they would have to ask more people (10.7) before finding someone willing to help them out. However, as was the case with the white lie, it only took asking 4.7 people before they found someone to help them out.

In studies three and four, the researchers were trying to determine whether or not the people who were asking others do take part in unethical behavior were aware of their influence and whether the people partaking in the unethical behavior actually had a harder time “doing the right thing” if they were asked to partake in unethical behavior. In both cases, they found evidence for their hypotheses. That is, when we try to convince someone to partake in unethical behavior, we underestimate our influence and as the person doing the unethical behavior, we find it harder to “do the right thing” when someone suggests unethical behavior.

The key finding, according to the researchers:

The truly startling finding is the lack of awareness people appear to have of this tendency when they are in a position to influence someone else’s ethical behavior. Overall, the current research suggests that we may not recognize the extent which our words and actions affect others’ ethical behavior and decisions.

I’ve certainly written about the importance of our words. Although, it was in a different context. The finding from this study is, as the researchers’ say, startling.

Prior to reading the study, I wouldn’t have predicted that we would so easily be susceptible to partaking in unethical behaviour. In fact, one of my potential critiques was cross-cultural. That is, would results like these hold in different cultures? According to the researchers, yes. With that being said, I do wonder if conducting this study with a different population — Americans, rather than Canadians — might provide different results.

ResearchBlogging.orgBohns, V., Roghanizad, M., & Xu, A. (2013). Underestimating Our Influence Over Others’ Unethical Behavior and Decisions Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (3), 348-362 DOI: 10.1177/0146167213511825

What Do You Want to Hear First: Good News or Bad News?

As it turns out, our answer to this question is different depending on whether we’re the one delivering the news or we’re the one receiving the news. If we’re delivering the news, we’re more likely to want to lead with the good news and if we’re receiving the news, we’re more likely to want to hear the bad news before the good news. Research published in last month’s Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin indicates that the order the news is delivered has implications for both the deliverer and the recipient.

The deliverer, wanting to avoid the ‘pain’ of delivering bad news and acting on egocentric biases, prefers to lead with the good news. The receiver, wanting to allay their anxiety about the bad news, much prefer to receive it before the good news. There’s certainly a disconnect here between the giver and the receiver. The giver, wanting to delay the painful experience of delivering bad news, prefers to save it for the end of the conversation. Conversely, the receiver would rather get the bad news out of the way from the outset.

The researchers found that if deliverers were to take the perspective of news-recipients, they’d be more inclined to lead with the bad news. While not specifically labelled as such, in testing this hypothesis, the researchers have found another positive to empathy. If the deliverers were to empathize with the the news-recipients, that is, pretend as if they were the ones receiving the news, they’d much rather hear the bad news first.

As it happens, hearing the bad news first might not be what’s best for the recipient.

If there is behaviour that needs to be changed, hearing the good news after the bad news might leave the recipient on their preferred high note, but also might diminish any motivation they might have had to act on the bad news. In Study 3:

News-recipients who received bad news first were less likely to take an easy opportunity to improve, choosing instead to engage in a boring and personally unproductive task (i.e., stapling papers for the researcher).

While deliverers of bad news might be acting out of their own self-interest when they prefer to deliver the good news first, they might actually be doing what’s in the best interest of the receiver. So, what order should you deliver the news? Well, that seems to depend on whether you want to motivate the receiver to act on the bad news.

One other implication of the good then bad sequence is that sometimes people like to tack on another piece of good news after the bad news to soften the impact. This is often referred to as a sandwich. While this may make the deliverer feel better, it tends to quash the motivational effect of ending with the bad news.

ResearchBlogging.orgLegg, A. M., & Sweeny, K. (2014). Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First? The Nature and Consequences of News Order Preferences Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (3), 279-288 DOI: 10.1177/0146167213509113