Ask Ariely: On Cultivating Commitment and Allocating Advice

September 25, 2021 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 volunteer for a local conservation organization and I’m trying to round up people to help
with a weekend afternoon cleanup of a popular hiking trail. In the past it’s been hard to
enlist volunteers. What can I do to get more people to help out?


You might consider asking people for a “maybe favor.” A maybe favor is a request for a commitment that might not actually have to be carried out. In your particular case, you could call for volunteers while making clear the possibility that the clean-up will be cancelled in the event of rain.

Recent research suggests that adding a “maybe” to a request for a favor increases people’s willingness to help. When subjects were asked if they would be willing to donate their earnings from participating in the study, 53% agreed. A different group was asked the same question but told that 5% of those who agreed would have their donations randomly cancelled. Under this condition, 66% chose to donate, which increased the total value of the donations even after eliminating the 5%.

One possible explanation for the increased willingness to donate is that people value the “warm glow” we get from agreeing to help. If we think that there is some probability that we will not be asked to do the favor, the warm glow remains, while the cost of doing the good deed is potentially mitigated.


Dear Dan,

There are many talented, junior members on my team at work, and I genuinely like to see them succeed. So I give them advice here and there, but it seems that my suggestions are largely ignored. What can I do differently?


People commonly ignore unsolicited advice—not because of its content, but because of the motivations they perceive on the part of the giver.

Researchers asked full-time employees to recall instances in which they received solicited and unsolicited advice, and then to speculate as to why they got it. Why they received solicited advice was self-explanatory—because they asked for it—but unsolicited advice gave rise to darker speculation. Employees ascribed unsolicited advice-givers not-so-great motives, such as the impulse to show-off their own knowledge or the hidden desire to hurt the recipient’s performance. In general, unsolicited advice was perceived as more self-serving and less useful than advice the recipients asked for.

You can help your colleagues by inviting them to be the ones to come to you and ask for your advice. For example, tell them that you were in their position a few years ago and will be happy to counsel them if they are interested. Another approach might be to emphasize your intentions, in order to make sure they know that you have their best interest in mind. For example, preface your advice to a colleague by talking about a time when you faced a similar situation and someone else helped you, explaining that now you are paying forward the favor.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.