Ask Ariely: On Social Solutions, Date Decisions, and Prompt Payments

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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Hi, Dan.

I work for an investment banking firm where 90% of the employees are men. I’m the only woman on my team, and ever since I joined, my teammates have treated me like the office plant. They make lunch plans without including me and say hello and goodbye to everyone except me. Generally, they pretend I don’t exist. I don’t think they are doing it to be hurtful—I just think they’re not sure how to befriend women. What can I do to change this?

—Jamie 

Social isolation is difficult and painful, and I’m very sorry about your experience. Sadly, it is difficult to change the social norms of an entire group at once. An easier path would be to change the behavior of one colleague at a time; direct interactions will help them to see you as a whole person. Why don’t you try to invite one of your co-workers for coffee or lunch every week? In time, this will change the overall atmosphere in the office.

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Dear Dan,

Every time I suggest an idea for a date, my husband questions whether I’ve picked the very best option. For instance, I once suggested that we dine at the Thai restaurant down the street. Instead, he perused Zagat until he found a “better” option. And a month ago, I suggested we go on a cruise using a company my friends like, but he insisted on researching alternative companies before committing. We still haven’t made any firm plans.

From my standpoint, I’d rather make a “good enough” decision and enjoy the experience, however imperfect. My husband points out that his research often yields objectively better decisions. Who’s right?

—Caroline 

In social science terminology your husband is a “maximizer” (someone who tries to make the best possible decision), and you are a “satisficer” (someone who tries to choose from within a range of good options). Lucky for you, the research suggests that your strategy is the right one.

The psychologist Barry Schwartz and colleagues did a study in 2002 comparing the two types of decision-makers. They found that maximizers had lower levels of optimism, happiness, self-esteem and even life satisfaction. They were also less happy with their daily decisions, and they tended to regret the decisions they made more often. So while your husband may indeed be finding the best-rated restaurant, movie or cruise, in the process he’s probably taking away a lot of his and your joy.

Here’s what I’d suggest: Instead of making date decisions together, take turns being in charge. That way, half the dates will go smoothly—and in the other half, you will get to practice your patience.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a scientist, and I recently volunteered to be part of my professional society’s membership committee. What is the most effective way to get people to pay their membership dues? Reminders? Guilt? Calling them up and begging them?

—Stephanie 

My guess is that your members are generally interested in staying members, but they just don’t want to pay “right now”—whether that means today, tomorrow or the next day. To fight this kind of procrastination, I would make it more tempting to pay now. For instance, host an attractive webinar that is open to paying members only. That would give your members a good reason to pay promptly.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.