Ask Ariely: On Confident Crushes and Feedback Failures

April 23, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

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.


Dear Dan,

I work at a coffee shop, and every Monday morning a woman comes in to pick up an iced coffee. I have developed quite a crush on her, but I’m worried that she doesn’t share my feelings and might say no if I ask her out. What do you suggest I do?


Every decision we make has the potential to bring positive or negative consequences. Right now, imagining a negative outcome is keeping you from asking for a date, so you might think you could gain the courage to talk to this woman by focusing only on the positive, envisioning her saying yes instead of no.

But a study that involved asking for a promotion points to a different conclusion. Participants were asked to think about what it would be like to ask for a promotion at their workplace. Then they were divided into three groups. One was told to write a list of reasons to make the request, another to list reasons not to make it and a third to list both pros and cons.

All the participants were then asked how likely they were to actually muster the courage to ask for a promotion at their work. Interestingly, the ones who listed both pros and cons were the most willing to ask, while there was no difference in willingness between the groups that considered only pros or only cons. What this suggest for your situation is that you should make a list of all possible positive and negative consequences of asking for a date. By lessening your fear of rejection, this exercise will make you more likely to take action.


Dear Dan,

I’m a laboratory technician, and I’m responsible for training a new employee to operate some complicated equipment. He just isn’t getting it, and he keeps making the same mistakes instead of learning from them. What else can I do?


The idea that we can learn from our mistakes is appealing, but it’s not always correct. Researchers have found that people often don’t learn from their mistakes, even when given an immediate opportunity to correct them.

In one set of studies, participants responded to factual questions by selecting one of two possible answers. After each question, feedback was provided. Test-takers in the “success” group were told only when they answered a question correctly, while those in the “failure” group were told only when they answered incorrectly.

Both groups had the same opportunity to learn from the feedback. But when they were retested, the “failure” group was less able to learn from their mistakes than the “success” group, which showed more progress. Why? Subsequent research suggested that failure threatens the ego and causes people to disengage. We find it easier to learn from other people’s failures than from our own.

So the next time you’re working with your new employee, make a point of commenting on everything he’s doing the right way. Instead of drawing attention to his mistakes, talk broadly about mistakes that other people might make when they’re first learning how to use the equipment, including mistakes you might have made. In general, when the ego is put aside, things often improve.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.