Sound familiar? You might have heard this phrase when asking your partner or a close friend where to go for dinner. You may have even uttered it yourself a few times. Whether it’s choosing a restaurant, a movie to watch, or a travel destination, we face numerous consumption decisions that we make jointly with others in our everyday lives. Compared to independent consumption decisions, these joint consumption decisions often entail a more complex process. In such situations, consumers may seek to avoid conflict and simplify the decision making process. A common way to achieve this is to communicate that one has no particular preference for any of the options presented to them. People generally assume that such a “no-preference communication” is a polite way to allow the other party to choose according to their own preferences. But do such statements actually help reduce potential conflict and decision intricacies?
We were inspired by our own experiences of feeling frustrated from being told that the other party has no preference (often when they actually do). For instance, one of the authors experienced feeling that it is impossible to satisfy her significant other who says that they have no preference, but then seems to not enjoy the restaurant that she ends up choosing (because they did have a preference!). Likewise, when a few of the authors were trying to decide whether to visit a cocktail bar or a beer pub for a night out, no preference communication made the decision even more difficult. Across similar experiences that we each had, it was interesting that our consumption partners had the best intentions to prioritize the other party’s preferences when the other person communicated no preference, and yet this effort was not being fully realized, complicating and ultimately derailing the joint consumption experience.
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A: One of the key takeaways from this research is that co-consumers do not anticipate the negative impact of their no-preference communication. That is, they are trying to be agreeable and accommodating, not make the decision more difficult for the decision maker. For managers who wish to maximize consumption experience, they may leverage this relationship motivation and simply tell consumers about the negative relationship consequences of no-preference communication. Being aware of the unexpected negative impact of their actions could serve as an easy intervention tool to facilitate co-consumers’ explicit preference communication.
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