Declined invitations go over more graciously when lack of money is cited instead of lack of time – new research

The Research Brief provides a brief overview of interesting academic work.
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The big idea

Rejecting an invitation and saying that I don't have the time causes the person who rejected it to feel devalued and upset. This makes them less likely to trust you and can lead to a breakdown in the relationship. We found this in research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Rejecting an invitation by saying I don't have the time or money will not cause the same negative reaction.

Six experiments were conducted to determine the best way of declining an invitation and not damaging a relationship. We focused on two common excuses: money and time.

We invited 207 people to our lab. Then, they were asked to recall a time when a friend declined to do something with us. They could either cite limited time or lack of money as an excuse. Participants were then asked to rate their relationship with the person, and how trusting they felt about them after they heard the excuse. We also asked participants to rate the validity of the excuse.

Participants reported feeling less connected to their friends and less trust when they used a money excuse instead of a time excuse for why they couldn't do something. A time excuse was also less valid.

We also recruited 132 people who were engaged or planning a wedding. We also asked them how many people declined to accept the invitation, and whether they had a money or time excuse. Participants in the study reported feeling less trustful of those who gave up on attending the wedding because they were short of time. Participants indicated that money is significantly more out of the control of their guests.

Similar results were obtained with three other experiments, which examined the possibility of someone declining an invitation to eat, drink or see a comedy performance.

Sixth experiment showed that people who blamed not enough time for being less charitable were more trustworthy. They also had more control over their limitations than those who cited lack of money.

Why it is important

All of us have been invited to events or asked to do favors for friends, but we didn't have the time or money. It can be difficult to say no for a variety of reasons.

Research suggests that declining invitations due to a lack in time, even if true, is a sign of weakness in the relationship. It might be better to say that I would rather do something than spend time with you.

We also discovered that if time is an issue, sharing more information with a friend about your time constraints, such as mentioning a deadline at work, can be helpful. This shows that the constraint is beyond your control.

What other research are you doing?

Our research suggests that citing money is more acceptable, but there are other reasons someone might not want to use cash as an excuse to decline a night out.

Research has shown that people who are financially strapped don't like talking about their buying habits because it reminds them how little they have. They are less likely to use this as an excuse to go out, even if it adds to their financial stress.

One of our experiments revealed that people viewed having too much money as less of a problem than having enough time. Participants with friends who declined invitations due to lack of funds expressed willingness to pay their companions' bills or suggest an alternative.

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This article was republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news site that shares ideas from academic experts. It was written and edited by Grant Donnelly, The Ohio State University, and Ashley Whillans from Harvard Business School.

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Ashley Whillans is funded by the Institute for Labor Economics, John Templeton Foundation and Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. She also receives funding from the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard University, Mittal Family Foundation, Burke Family Foundation and Pershing Square Foundations of Human Behaviour Initiative at Harvard University.

Grant Donnelly is not affiliated with any company or organization that Grant Donnelly may consult, fund, or own shares of.