Ask Ariely: On Ticket Troubles, Business Bonds, and Aging Attitudes

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

Last week I went to a website to buy a ticket for a talk you were giving. When I saw that the ticket was $28 and that they charged an additional $7.50 processing fee, I balked. I ended up not going to see you. Ironically, I probably would have just bought the ticket if the original price had been $35.50. Would you call this rational behavior?

—Terry 

It’s irrational, for sure. Rationally, you should care only about the total price of the ticket—additional fees included. It should be irrelevant whether the charge is 100% for the ticket itself or partly for the ticket and partly for processing the transaction.

But, of course, we are not rational. The small outrage you experienced at the high processing fee is about perceived fairness, and it is very human. That $7.50 processing fee is more than 25% of the price of the ticket. If that same fee were slapped onto a $1,000 airline ticket, you probably would not give it a second thought.

Ticket sellers should recognize that this pricing strategy is clumsy and not in their best interests. They would do themselves a big favor simply by bundling the processing fee into the face price of the ticket. Then, next time, you might show up to hear me talk!

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Dear Dan,

In my job I meet lots of new people all the time, and I’d like to build trusting relationships with them as I advance in my career. What’s the best way in business to foster trust with others?

—Kayla 

One key strategy is to show that, even though you’re doing business, you care about the other person’s interests—even at a cost to yourself.

Imagine that you’re at a restaurant and order a pricey fish entree. One waiter tells you that the dish is sold out and suggests that you instead try the chicken, which is just as tasty and is also less expensive. A different waiter, by contrast, directs you to the caviar dish—which, you learn, is three times more expensive.

You will certainly put more trust in the first waiter than in the second one. The first has shown that he’s willing to accept a smaller tip (for a less expensive entree) because he wants you to have an enjoyable experience. And the next time you’re in the restaurant, you will ask for him. The best way to build trust is to show people that you have their best interests in mind.

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Dear Dan,

As I’ve aged, it seems to me that the people around me have become kinder and more thoughtful—and, in response to them, I’ve become more liberal and compassionate. What drives this change?

—Pete 

I’m not sure what explains your increased compassion, but it’s very much to your credit. I’ve seen the same thing with my aging father: He’s become a lot kinder. I could suggest that long experience breeds wisdom and appreciation, but another explanation keeps nagging at me.

Maybe it’s about hearing loss? Perhaps when we can’t hear everything people are saying, we fill in the gaps in an over-optimistic way and end up attributing more positive attributes to the person on the other side of the discussion.

Then again, I know plenty of other people who have gotten crankier as they have grown older—and perhaps that is related to hearing loss, too.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.