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The Economic and Interpersonal Consequences of Deflecting Direct Questions
Keywords: Deflection; Disclosure; Deception; Negotiation; Trust
Abstract: Direct, difficult questions pose a challenge. Respondents may incur economic costs for honestly revealing information, reputational costs for engaging in deception, and interpersonal costs, including harm to perceptions of trust and liking, for directly declining to answer the question. Across six experiments, we explore the relative economic and interpersonal consequences of a fourth approach: Deflection, answering a direct question with another question. We contrast deflection with other types of responses and show that deflection can mitigate the economic costs of honest answers, the reputational costs of engaging in deception, and the interpersonal costs of directly declining to answer a question. For disclosures central to trust, we show that deflection can lead to better economic and interpersonal outcomes than honest disclosure. Paradoxically, deflection works by requiring the initial question asker to answer a direct question, creating the same challenge for the asker that the respondent initially faced.