In the dance that is conversation, participants are often reluctant to ask sensitive questions for fear of stepping on their partner’s toes. But that fear is overblown, according to new research that shows that most people don’t really mind answering sensitive questions, and asking them doesn’t leave a bad impression. In fact, direct questions about delicate topics can lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations that foster greater understanding and bring people closer together. Einav Hart, assistant management professor at George Mason University; Eric VanEpps, assistant marketing professor at the University of Utah; and Maurice Schweitzer, a Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, talked to Knowledge@Wharton about their paper, “The (Better Than Expected) Consequences of Asking Sensitive Questions,” which was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. They explained why we might too frequently avoid touchy subjects during conversation, whether with strangers, co-workers or friends.

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