Thanks for Nothing: Expressing Gratitude Invites Exploitation by Competitors

by Jeremy Yip, Kelly Kiyeon Lee, Cindy Chan, and Alison Wood Brooks

Overview — Think more carefully and strategically about expressing gratitude while negotiations are still underway. Even if negotiators feel grateful for concessions from a counterpart, it may not help them, and it might even hurt them, to express it then and there. Wait until the deal is done before saying thanks.

Author Abstract

Previous research has revealed that expressing gratitude motivates prosocial behavior in cooperative relationships. However, expressing gratitude in competitive interactions may operate differently. Across five studies, we demonstrate that individuals interacting with grateful counterparts become more likely to engage in selfish behavior during competitive interactions. In Studies 1a and 1b, participants who interacted with counterparts expressing gratitude were more likely to make aggressive offers in distributive negotiations than those who interacted with counterparts expressing neutral emotion. In Study 2, we find that inferences of the tendency to forgive mediates the relationship between gratitude expression and selfish behavior. In Study 3, we contrast expressions of gratitude with another positive-valence emotion: excitement. We show that expressing gratitude promotes self-interested behavior compared to expressing excitement or neutral emotion. In Study 4, we find that gratitude expression triggers self-serving deception. Taken together, our findings suggest that expressing gratitude can be costly in competitive interactions: people infer that grateful counterparts are forgiving and, therefore, they are more likely to exploit their counterparts for selfish gain.

Paper Information